posted in: April 1995, Editorial | 0

Mahai`ula Revisited: It’s Never Too Late to Learn

The $13,000 in back taxes owed by Blue Point, Inc., to the state at the time Blue Point received the state’s payment of $13 million for land at Mahai`ula is, we admit, minuscule when measured as a fraction of that payment. For those interested, the tax bill represents just one tenth of one percent, or one one-thousandth, of what the state paid Blue Point.

It is not so much the $13,000 principal of the matter that bothers us; it is, rather, the principle. For Blue Point to have been paid anything by the state before having cleared up its own tax delinquency is outrageous. The fact that state law fails to require a tax clearance before it pays anyone such monstrous sums is nothing short of scandalous.

Still, laws on the books required the state, at the very least, to obtain a taxpayer identification number from Blue Point. In theory, this would have allowed the state to make sure taxes owed on any income received from the transaction would have been paid. Lame as this law was, the deputy attorney general for the state who oversaw acquisition of Mahai`ula did not bother to ensure that this requirement was carried out.

Recovery of the taxes owed may not be possible at this late date. Still, we would urge the state to make its best effort. If nothing else, perhaps it can seek some form of recovery from the attorneys who represented Blue Point; it fell to them, after all, to ensure that their client complied with the clear terms of the settlement.


It’s quite bad enough when the state failed to obtain the tax identification number from Blue Point before making payment to that company. Even worse was the fact that the state appeared to be asleep at the switch when the proposed sale of the property was brought before a probate judge for approval. In newspaper accounts at the time, the Magoon estate’s attorney, Tom Foley, was quoted as saying he informed the state of the pending court hearing — although he apparently did not inform the right people. In any event, had the state presented its offer, based upon its July 1990 appraisal, to the court in timely manner, chances are good that the state could have saved itself a neat $6 million — to say nothing of the cost of three years of litigation.

What happened cannot be undone, of course. But at the very least, the costly mistakes of the past should be turned into lessons for the future. Would it be unreasonable to hope that when parcels the state has an interest in acquiring are subject to probate, the state identifies itself to the court as an interested party? The state would then have a fair chance of receiving notices of impending court hearings on proposed sales.

Whether it would actually read them is, of course, anyone’s guess.

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Why Not Try Conservation?

The demonstration desalination plant at Campbell Industrial Park has served its purpose. Beyond any reasonable doubt, it has demonstrated that conservation is a far more economical means of finding water than any of the three methods employed at the facility.

Had the $8 million spent on developing the plant been used to underwrite conservation measures — infrastructure to allow the re-use of treated wastewater, retrofitting of older houses with water-saving devices, and educational programs, to name just a few — chances are good that water use on O`ahu would have been reduced by an amount far exceeding the 250,000 gallons per day that the desal plant puts out.

The desal plant has been targeted by Governor Ben Cayetano as a costly luxury the state can no longer afford. We can only hope the Legislature agrees with him on this.

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March took a heavy toll on Hawai`i’s small community of dedicated environmentalists and social activists. Lani Stemmermann, who single-handedly forced the U.S. Army to conduct an environmental impact statement for a new training area at Pohakuloa, Hawai`i, passed away March 14 in Hilo. As a result of her love, her knowledge, her persistence, and her great personal sacrifice, we are learning far more about the rare plant communities of Pohakuloa, and about the area’s past history, than we ever would have learned otherwise. Lani served as chairwoman of the state Natural Area Reserves Commission before illness caused her to leave that post. She also was a professor at the University of Hawai`i.

Fred Reppun died March 15. As a physician with a family practice in Kane`ohe, he was practically an institution on Windward O`ahu. Not as well known, perhaps, was his involvement in such national organizations as Physicians for Nuclear Responsibility, which he helped found, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Dr. Reppun is survived by seven children, including sons John, Paul, and Charley, whose names are synonymous with the battle to restore flows to Windward O`ahu streams.

We are as saddened and diminished by their passing as we were gladdened and enriched by their lives.

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Fund Awards Grant

The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund has awarded Environment Hawai`i a three-year grant. The purpose of the grant is to support work on the relationship between water and Hawaiian cultural traditions.

Environment Hawai`i will be working closely on this project with W.S. Merwin, who is one of 10 recipients of the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writer’s Awards for 1994. Merwin, a distinguished poet, writer, translator, and gardener, lives in Ha`iku, Maui.

The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund seeks to enhance the cultural life of communities and make the arts and culture an active part of everyday lives through support of programs in the performing, visual, literary, and folk arts, adult literacy, and urban parks. It is based in Manhattan.

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The Pohaku Fund of the Tides Foundation has awarded a substantial grant to Environment Hawai`i. It will help underwrite our general expenses.

We are also pleased to acknowledge a grant of $2,200 from the Atherton Family Foundation. This is to be used for office automation.

Finally, we express our gratitude to the following individuals for recent generous gifts: Mary Evanson, Katy Swift, David Watson, David Frankel, and Diane Shepherd.

Volume 5, Number 10 April 1995