New & Noteworthy: ‘Aina Le‘a, Corrections

New & Noteworthy: ‘Aina Le‘a, Corrections

posted in: January 2020, New & Noteworthy | 0

‘Aina Le‘a Keeps Whiffing: Since August, ‘Aina Le‘a, Inc., has been attempting to win approval from the Hawai‘i County Planning Department of an environmental impact statement preparation notice, or EISPN.

The notice is a necessary first step in moving forward with construction on about 1,100 acres of land in South Kohala that have been the subject of controversial development plans for the last three decades.

A decade ago, the county accepted an EIS for the land, but, following a court challenge, it was deemed insufficient and ‘Aina Le‘a was informed it needed to prepare a new EIS.

For several years, ‘Aina Le‘a was preoccupied with litigation over the Land Use Commission’s decision to revert the land to the state Agricultural District (overturned) and then a bankruptcy petition. Last spring, it emerged from bankruptcy with a reorganization plan. Since then, its chief executive officer, Robert Wessels, has been pressing the Planning Department to approve an EIS prep notice.

The first one he submitted was in late August.

It was rejected by the county on September 9.

In October, Wessels tried again.

Once more, the county rejected it on October 31, referencing the same flaws it identified in the earlier rejection letter.

Wessels tried a third time on the day before Thanksgiving. This, too, was unacceptable to the county.

One of the persistent problems identified by the county is the reliance by Wessels on studies conducted a decade or more ago for the original, rejected EIS. Wessels is relying on a landscaper, Christian Renz of Waikoloa, to prepare the new environmental documentation, although Renz has no history of work in this area.

Renz is more than just a landscaper, though. In July, Wessels established a new business, B-1-A D-1-A, LLC, and named Renz as its agent. On August 1, ‘Aina Le‘a, Inc. – the manager of the new entity – transferred ownership of the two largest parcels, amounting to 1,011 acres, to the new company. (The obscure name is drawn from the way the two parcels are identified in some plan- ning documents.)

The county was not informed of the change in ownership, nor was the new company identified as owner of the two lots in the several EIS prep notices submitted.

Should Wessels ever get to the point he needs to get plan approvals for construction, he faces yet another hurdle. Property taxes on the land have been unpaid for several years. According to the county’s Finance Department, as of November 30, ‘Aina Le‘a owed more than $725,000 in unpaid taxes plus penalties and interest.

Corrections: In making his motion to approve water use permits to Alexander & Baldwin last year, Board of Land and Natural Resources member Chris Yuen did not add a condition requiring a sublessee establishing an annual crop to harvest it before the permit expires, as we reported in our November 2019 Board Talk item on water permits. Rather, Yuen required Mahi Pono, LLC, to inform any lessees that rely on irrigation water received via the revocable permit that the availability of water is based on a month-to-month permit that ends in a year.

Also, in our November 2019 story on the membership of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, we referred to Manuel Duenas of Guam’s fisherman’s coop when we meant Michael Duenas, Manuel’s son.

We sincerely regret the errors.

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