Waiahole Farmers' 20-Year Struggle For Land May Be Nearing an End

posted in: October 1994 | 0

The year is 1976. Gerald Ford is president. George Ariyoshi is governor of Hawai’i. Frank Fasi is mayor of Honolulu. And the residents of Waiahole and Waikane valleys on O’ahu’s windward coast are fighting the battle of their lives to stave off eviction from their small farms.

Ford exited office quickly. Ariyoshi took a while longer. Even Fasi finally left the office of mayor of Honolulu. But, eighteen years after their victory against a planned subdivision, the farmers of Waiahole are struggling to secure their hold on the land they farm and the water they need to farm it.

The early militancy against the planned subdivision ended in 1977, when the state purchased the land from Elizabeth Marks, heir to the McCandless Estate. The purchase was contested by Windward Partners, a hui that had been put together by developer Joe Pao, and which had itself acquired an option to purchase the land. In the end, though, the state prevailed, paying $6 million to Marks for 600 acres where the state planned to develop what is called the Waiahole Agricultural Park.

The initial funds for acquisition came from the Hawai’i Housing Agency, now known as the Housing Financing and Development Corporation. For this reason, HHA and, later, HFDC, have taken the lead in planning for the ag park, negotiating long term leases with the Waiahole-Waikane Community Association, which represents most of the farmers in the valley, and developing the infrastructure required to support the farm and house lots.

According to David Chinen, vice president of the community association, and James Fujimori, the staff person at HFDC who has been responsible for working with the farmers, the state and the farmers are now close to agreeing on language for the long-term (55-year) leases. Both are hopeful that the leases will be signed before Governor John Waihe’e leaves office in December.

Mixed Use

Fujimori says that of the 600 or so acres owned by the state, 365 are to be teased for agricultural use, 52 acres leased for residential, and almost all of the remainder (including steep sloped land) will be in open space. Some 40 to 50 farmers, growing everything from wetland taro to bananas, papayas, truck crops and foliage, are in line to receive the leases.

To provide water to the farm and house lots, the state has installed a water system fed by pumped water. Altogether, the system is capable of supplying about 1 million gallons a day to the park – a figure that, according to Fujimori, is not close to being used.

Still, residents of the valley have serious complaints about the water system. They say the reservoir was built at too low an elevation to provide steady water pressure. To address this concern, the state had to pay for a booster pumping station – and even this has not completely solved the problem. The reservoir itself was built of metal rather than concrete. This minimized construction expenses but has meant more expensive maintenance costs over the long term – especially since the Honolulu Board of Water Supply refuses to accept dedication of the substandard reservoir.

In any event, the capacity of the water system is not sufficient to support wetland taro cultivation on all of the 80 or so acres of prime taro lands that lie within the boundaries of the ag park. As much as 20 million gallons more a day would have to flow through Waiahole Stream to support wetland taro cultivation on just 100 acres of the 140 acres in Waiahole Valley that have been identified by the Office of State Planning and others as being suitable for this crop, according to the Waiahole-Waikane Community Association, and the Hakipu’u Ohana, and the Kahalu’u Neighborhood Board.1

1 See their testimony of June 22, 1994, to the meeting of the Commission of Water Resource Management, page 5.

Volume 5, Number 4 October 1994

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