comscore Judge hands down ‘landmark’ ruling against DLNR, A&B on water permits | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Judge hands down ‘landmark’ ruling against DLNR, A&B on water permits


    Water diverted from East Maui ran down a ditch toward sugar cane fields at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. plantation in Puunene in April 2010.

Maui taro farmers celebrate judge’s ruling on stream water diversions

An Oahu judge has invalidated a state practice of issuing permits to Alexander & Baldwin to divert millions of gallons of irrigation water daily from streams for its Maui sugar operations.

Judge Rhonda Nishimura ruled Jan. 8 that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ use of the one-year revocable permits violated state law and was only meant to be temporary. The permits have been extended annually from 2001 to 2014 without an official environmental review.

“A&B’s continuously uninterrupted use of these public lands on a holdover basis for the last 13 years is not temporary,” Nishimura said in her order. “Such a prospect is inconsistent with the public interest and legislative intent.”

Alexander & Baldwin spokeswoman Tran Chinery said the company, which recently announced that its subsidiary Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. would shut down its sugar production this year, disagrees with the judge’s decision and has asked her to reconsider it.

“We have been following the procedures for securing a state water lease since 2001, but the process has been repeatedly delayed due to numerous legal challenges by those opposing diversions of stream water,” Chinery said.

The ruling applies to streams and tributaries from Nahiku to Huelo. Alexander & Baldwin has drawn from the waterways to irrigate 36,000 acres of sugar cane land and provide water to the county for 36,000 residents and farmers.

Attorney Summer Sylva represented the plaintiffs in the case, which included taro farmers, fishermen, hunters and traditional practitioners. She said the judge could take steps to halt the diversions, which county officials have estimated at between 40 million and 137 million gallons a day.

“Our hope with this case was to restore water to the East Maui watershed in defense of the environment and the taro farmers and gatherers … and in the interest of the public,” said Sylva.

Taro farmers have called Nishimura’s ruling a “landmark decision.”

“This is a historic victory for us,” said Mahealani Wendt, a member of the plaintiff group Na Moku Aupuni O Koolau.

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