Environmental Courts: The 2014 legislative session was not distinguished by passage of strong new environmental laws. Still, one of the last bills signed into law by Governor Neil Abercrombie merits some attention.
Act 218 establishes a system of environmental courts within the state judiciary, which “shall have exclusive, original jurisdiction” in cases involving appeals of contested cases or challenges to rules of selected agencies that administer statutes listed in the new law. Those include HRS 6D (protection of caves), 6E (historic sites), 6K (Kaho`olawe), 128D (Hawai`i Environmental Response Law), several involving solid and electronic waste, safe drinking water, air pollution, and environmental covenants. Missing from the list are the statutes under which many environmental lawsuits are filed, including those that govern the Conservation District, the state’s coastal areas, and filings with the Land Use Commission.
There is a caveat that could expand the courts’ jurisdiction, however: the chief justice of the state Supreme Court “may assign to the environmental courts issues … when the chief justice determines that due to their subject matter the assignment is required to ensure the uniform application of environmental laws throughout the state or to otherwise effectuate the purpose of this chapter.”
New Rules on Land Exchanges: Another bill that made it across the finish line into law involves the Legislature’s review of land exchanges approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources. Until now, exchanges of public land for private land could be overturned only upon a two-thirds vote of either the Senate or the House of Representatives or by a majority vote in both chambers in the first regular or special session following BLNR approval of the deal.
Under Act 146 of the 2014 Legislature, such exchanges now require a majority in each chamber to approve the Land Board’s action.
Correction: While on the subject of legislative action, we note that our July “Board Talk” column incorrectly stated that the Endangered Species Recovery Committee was the only remaining board within the Department of Land and Natural Resources that did not require the inclusion of a member with a background in native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices. The governor had, in fact, signed a bill making it a requirement on April 30.
Solomon Subdivision: The subdivision of a large Department of Hawaiian Home Lands lot in Waimea, leased to the mother of state Sen. Malama Solomon, has received tentative approval from the Hawai`i County Planning Department.
The subdivision was needed to legitimize the construction of at least four houses on the 125-acre lot, despite DHHL rules that generally allow no more than one house per lot.
The construction of the buildings, which include at least five outbuildings in addition to the houses, was publicized first in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, in a series on DHHL lands by reporter Rob Perez. The subdivision involves creating four oddly shaped lots – laid out in such a way as to allow legal access to each lot while avoiding having more than one house on each newly created parcel.
Shepherding the process of subdivision, which also involved obtaining several variances from usual county rules for new subdivisions, was Malama Solomon, who signed the various applications and claimed to have power of attorney for her mother, Flora Beamer Solomon. In May, the county specifically asked to see evidence of that claim. A response to the request did not appear in county files by press time, yet that seems not to have delayed action on the request. (For details, see the article in the June issue of Environment Hawai`i.)