New & Notworthy: In Memoriam, EH-Xtra, ‘Aina Le‘a

posted in: April 2019 | 0

In Memoriam: Last month the Hawaii environmental community lost two pillars of conservation: Don Reeser and William Merwin.

Don, 80 years old, died March 16 at his home in Makawao, Maui. He probably did more to protect the natural resources of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park than any other single individual – more, in fact, that any other two or three dozen people. He stood up to hunters and began large-scale fencing projects in both parks to protect their natural resources from goats and other feral animals. He was supervisor at Haleakala for many years and continued even in retirement to be an outspoken proponent of the park through the Friends of Haleakala National Park group, which he helped to found.

Environment Hawaii board members Valerie Monson and Mary Evanson worked closely with him on many projects. Valerie describes him as a Renaissance man, who in addition to his advocacy for natural resources, also raised bees and played the saxophone.

William Merwin, 91, died at his home in Peahi, Maui, on March 15. He is best known to the world for his luminous poetry. But his friends in Hawaii cherished him also for his dedication to conservation, most notably through the Merwin Conservancy, established by William and his gracious wife, Paula, who died in 2017. Both served for many years on the board of directors of Environment Hawaii, and William was the featured guest at two of our fund-raising dinners.

It is hard to put into words what these two have done to advance the cause of conservation in Hawaii. Our lovely archipelago is poorer for having lost them, but immeasurably richer as a result of their devotion to this place and their efforts on its behalf.

EH-Xtra, EH-Xtra: News doesn’t stand still from one monthly deadline to the next. Our EH-Xtra column, appearing on the home page of our website, provides timely updates on stories we’ve covered as well as news that breaks too late to get into the next month’s issue. Go to environment-hawaii.org and check them out.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve posted EH-Xtra items dealing with the Aina Lea litigation against the state and a proposal to build a whole new town in the middle of pasture lands on the Big Island.

If you’d like to receive notices as new items are posted, and you aren’t already receiving them, just send an email to ptummons@gmail.com and we’ll add you to the mailing list.

Aina Lea Bankruptcy: For three days in March, Honolulu bankruptcy Judge Robert J. Faris heard arguments for and against approving the plan of Aina Lea, Inc., to reorganize and move forward with its plans to develop about 1,000 acres of land near the Kohala Coast of the Big Island.

For all three days, Aina Lea’s witnesses, including its CEO, Robert Wessels, were grilled remorselessly by attorneys for the company’s largest single creditor, Bridge Aina Lea, LLC.

On March 27, however, Aina Lea and Bridge seem to have ironed out their differences, with Bruce Voss, Bridge’s attorney, filing a stipulation with the court that withdrew Bridge’s objections to the reorganization plan. In return, Aina Lea agreed to amend its proposed treatment of Bridge’s claims, providing now for interest to accrue at 10.2 percent annually on debt of $20 million. Aina Lea also agreed to repay Bridge more than $100,000 in Hawaii County real property taxes that Bridge had paid on the Aina Lea land that secured Bridge’s claim.

As of March 28, the other major secured creditor, Romspen Investment Corp., had not yet agreed to Aina Lea’s plan. Judge Faris has indicated he will make an oral ruling on whether to confirm the plan on April 8.

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