Water May Be Limiting Factor On Former Galbraith Ag Lands

posted in: Agriculture, December 2013 | 0
Within a year of purchasing more than 1,100 acres of agricultural land from Galbraith Estate, the state Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) has leased out about as much as it can without an additional source of water and/or requiring crop rotation.
Most of that leased land has gone to a single farmer, Larry Jefts, a former ADC board member who has also been contracted by the agency to help prepare the land for farming. In addition to the 150 acres the ADC board leased to Jefts’ Kelena Farms, Inc. back in May, the board approved an additional 80 acres to the farm on October 30.

The board has also approved a new lease for few dozen acres to Ho Farms, which currently grows a variety of crops on 40 acres in Kahuku, on O`ahu’s North Shore.

The single well serving the Galbraith lands has recently been refurbished to meet federal emission standards and can now finally be put to use. However, Jefts says, it can only irrigate about 300 acres. Factoring in crop rotation, which would leave about half the land fallow at any given time, the well is sufficient to serve up to about 600 acres, he says.

He adds that the state’s plan to use effluent from the Wahiawa Wastewater Treatment Plant that has been oxidized and filtered to all but eliminate viruses and bacteria (known as R-1 water) may not be sufficient to serve the rest of the land. Jefts says one of his buyers has already stated it would not purchase produce irrigated with R-1 water.

The 2012 state Legislature appropriated $750,000 for the planning and design of an irrigation system that would take water from the North Fork of Kaukonahua Stream. But according to Jefts, this option is no panacea, either. He laments that proposed federal food safety standards may require expensive testing of crops irrigated with surface water, which may deter farmers from using anything other than well water.

Pumping the existing well is already going to cost more than what the Honolulu Board of Water Supply charges for water. And according to ADC executive director James Nakatani, a proposal made by France’s Akuo Energy late last year to build solar greenhouses that could help meet the Galbraith farmers’ electricity needs hasn’t gone anywhere because the company still needs to find someone other than Hawaiian Electric Company to buy its power.

As of the ADC’s September meeting, an appointed committee composed of representatives from the Hawai`i Farm Bureau Federation, the City & County of Honolulu, and the University of Hawai`i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources had reviewed about 30 applications for Galbraith lands.

Pressing Ahead

Also at the October 30 meeting, the ADC board voted to support, in concept, state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz’s Whitmore Village Agricultural Development Plan. Although the approval included no specific projects or contracts, the board has already started investigating the purchase of lands in the area for processing and distribution facilities.

At its September 25 meeting, the board voted to enter into an agreement with Castle & Cooke Hawai`i to buy 24 acres of land in Whitmore. The 2012 Legislature appropriated $3.6 million for the purchase.

The ADC board has also agreed to negotiate a purchase of the Tamura Warehouse in Wahiawa, owned by Tamura Enterprises, Inc. The proposed purchase price is $4.29 million.

OIP Complaint
On November 4, Environment Hawai`i asked the state Office of Information Practices to annul all of the votes taken at ADC board’s October 30 meeting and require the agency to redo a site visit to various agricultural lands and facilities that was held after the meeting. The reason: the ADC board’s agenda inaccurately described the meeting site.

The meeting was to start at 9:30 and, according to ADC staff, concluded about an hour later, long before our reporter finally found the meeting room.

The agenda stated that the meeting would be held at the Hawai`i Agricultural Research Center (HARC) Conference Room on Kunia Drive in Kunia, O`ahu. Although there is a conference room located at HARC’s offices on Kunia Road, the meeting was actually held five miles away in an unmarked room of a warehouse complex surrounding the Pa`ina Hawai`i, LLC irradiation facility. Pa`ina was one of the sites visited following the meeting and is located, according to the agenda, at 92-1780 Kunia Road.

In its response to Environment Hawai`i’s complaint, ADC executive director James Nakatani pointed out that a member of the public – a staffer from Sen. Dela Cruz’s office – had managed to find the meeting, but only after first going to the HARC offices and eventually getting directions to the meeting site from HARC staff.

He added that one of his staff members “was positioned at the driveway along Kunia Road between 9:25 and 10:00 to catch the attention of anyone interested in attending the meeting, and to waive [sic] them into the driveway and parking area.”

Environment Hawai`i’s complaint notes that state law requires the agenda of an open meeting to be posted at the meeting site whenever feasible.

To this, Nakatani argues that posting the agenda would not have helped EH from finding the conference room since one would have had to “purposefully roam around the premises” to find it. He states that his agency is considering getting a banner or large sign that can be posted when the ADC meets in rural areas.

Rather than having the ADC redo the meeting and site visits, Nakatani asked that the October 30 votes be allowed to stand, “subject to voidance in the event a member of the public requests an opportunity to testify on any matter decided at that meeting, or requests that the board re-deliberate on any matter, upon notice to be given at a future meeting of the ADC board.”

As of press time, the OIP had not given its advice on the matter.

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