|This story has been corrected. See below.|
HONOLULU » Nearly two dozen environmental groups on Monday called on Gov. David Ige to withdraw his nomination of development executive Carleton Ching to lead the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Ching lacks expertise and experience in areas the department oversees, including forests, coral reefs, fishing and hunting, the groups said in a statement.
Ching is currently vice president of community and government relations at Castle & Cooke Hawaii. He handles real estate, agriculture and renewable energy projects at the firm. He previously spent a decade working at the Hawaii Housing Authority and specialized in building affordable housing.
"We need to keep moving forward on some of the progress that we’ve made in the environment in the last four years with regard to our watersheds and invasive species, community based fishing — these are all great things that are going forward," said Marjorie Ziegler, the executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii. "We really do deserve to have, I think, a more experienced and engaged director of the department."
Twenty-two groups signed the statement, including the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club, Maui Tomorrow and KAHEA-The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. A separate petition created by a Sierra Club member has attracted 5,000 signatures since the nomination was announced Friday.
Anthony Aalto, chairman of the Oahu group of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii Chapter, said Ching lobbied on behalf of Koa Ridge, which Aalto called "the most egregious development project that’s come down the pipe in the last couple of decades."
The Castle & Cooke development would build 3,500 homes on top of what Aalto said is the second most productive food farm in Hawaii.
"I’m told he may have some expertise in the area of affordable housing. So why doesn’t the governor put him in a job where he could do something about affordable housing?" Aalto said.
Ige told reporters that he’s confident Ching is the right person for the job. The governor said he was looking for a leader who shared his goals, vision and management style.
"He is a great leader, great business mind. We’ve had other directors at DLNR who came from the business sector who did a great job," Ige told reporters after delivering his State of the State address.
Ige said whoever he appointed would have split the community. The Senate will give Ching a fair hearing, he said.
"I look forward to the people of Hawaii understanding Carleton’s background, his heart, and his commitment the job and to the people of Hawaii," Ige said.
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said the Senate received more comments about Ching than any other appointee so far this session, and the majority of the comments were negative. But she said the extra scrutiny could be beneficial.
"I find that it’s those directors who get the most attention and the most opposition that turn out to be really good, because they know the public is focused in on them," said Kim, who represents Kalihi and Moanalua Gardens.
Associated Press writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote to state Sen. Laura Thielen. That quote has been removed from this version.