In their latest strike against Hawaii agriculture, activists are mounting an attack on Alexander & Baldwin's request for a one-year holdover water permit on Maui.
Though the activists are trying to make it all about A&B, the water system also serves Kula farmers and some 36,000 Upcountry Maui residential users, as well as 30,000 acres of A&B ag land in Central Maui.
The proposal will be heard by the Board of Land and Natural Resources at its Honolulu meeting on Friday.
At issue is whether A&B will be able to keep using water under a year-by-year holdover permit as it seeks a longer-term water license and transitions HC&S out of sugar and into diversified ag.
The BLNR action is in line with Act 126, a hotly contested law the state Legislature passed in response to a Circuit Court ruling that found the state's revocable water permit system was illegal. Act 126 allows revocable permit holders to keep using water under no more than three one-year holdover permits while the state processes their water license applications.
So though the BLNR action is essentially a housekeeping measure that continues the status quo while A&B goes through the water license process, activists are now trying to fight the Act 126 battle all over again. They are even using the exact same messaging in their call to action for the BLNR hearing as they employed in rallying folks to testify at the Lege:
HERE ARE THE FACTS.
If passed, this bill would allow commercial users to divert millions of gallons of public water per day and avoid protections for both Hawaiian and public water interests indefinitely, with no limitations on the amount or duration of the diversion.
Except the facts are actually this: There are indeed limits on the amount and duration of the diversion, and protections for Hawaiian and public water interests remain fully intact.
But hey, the first rule of activism is this: Don't let the facts get in the way of some good fear-mongering.
Though activists are framing the debate as seizing a public trust resource from corporate control, their actions could serve to undermine the expansion of diversified ag, which they claim to want, and accelerate development, which they supposedly don't want.
About 23,000 acres of A&B land in Central Maui have been designated as Important Ag Lands (IAL). But one requirement of an IAL designation is the availability of water. So if activists succeed in derailing A&B's holdover water permit, the company could make a strong case for pulling the land out of the IAL, thus opening the door for the development.
Activists are also claiming that A&B doesn't need the water because it has wells. But their wells produce brackish water that some crops can't tolerate.
Meanwhile, HC&S — Hawaii's last sugar plantation — is set to close on Dec. 12. As the fields are no longer cultivated, Central Maui is getting brown — and it will get a lot browner if there's no water.
I never thought I'd see the day when people were actually celebrating the demise of a major agricultural operation in Hawaii. Every other plantation closure has been mourned.
But people like Terez Amato Lindsey and others are actually cheering over this sad event, which will put hundreds of people out of work and have reverbations through the larger Maui economy:
Though Lindsey and others are saying A&B shouldn't get the water because it doesn't yet have a “firm plan” for how it's going to transition HC&S into diversified ag, they remain utterly clueless about the difficulty of finding economically viable uses for thousands of acres of farm land.
An article in Maui Now describes the challenges A&B is facing as it grows trial crops of corn, soybeans, sorghum and sunflowers. These ranged from strong winds that toppled young plants to insect and bird damage and destruction by wild pigs.
As Jerrod Schreck, who is part of the HC&S diversified ag trials team, noted:
So what’s important now is to understand how much it costs to grow these crops, what the actual yields are, and what inputs are required so we can determine if it can be a sustainable business.
We’re just trying to prove the irrigation, prove the concept, test the pest impacts, and if it makes sense, then we’ll scale up from there, but before we go commercial, I would expect to see a large scale block rotation that could be a year or more in length.
Agriculture is a business, which means it has to make economic and practical sense.
But since the anti-ag activists have never actually grown anything, they have no idea of what it takes to keep agriculture healthy and viable. Instead, they attack it on every front, even as they claim to support farming.
You just can't have it both ways.
No water = no farms. No farms = no food and fuel. The end of ag = more resort uses and gentrification. It really is that simple.