Alone among Hawai`i’s four counties, Kaua`i is hard at work on developing maps indicating its most important agricultural lands. O`ahu, Maui, and Hawai`i have yet to leave the starting gate, when it comes to developing the “inclusive process for public involvement in the identification of potential lands and … maps,” to say nothing of having their respective councils actually adopt IAL maps to forward to the LUC.
According to Lea Kaiaokamalie of Kaua`i County’s Planning Department, “we’re about halfway through the IAL process and we hope to wrap it up by September.”
The county got a head start when, in 2005, the state Legislature appropriated $75,000 to fund a pilot project to look at how the designation process would work in the Po`ipu-Koloa area. The University of Hawai`i’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning was contracted to carry out that study. Later, the county appropriated about $500,000 to hire DURP to undertake the countywide process.
After dozens of meetings over nearly two years, an end is in sight. Says Kaiaokamalie: “The process was tedious, but most people stayed through. People pulled their hair and yelled at each other, but I’m so proud of them for hanging in there.” (To review the work of the county’s Stakeholder-Technical Advisory Committee, go to: http://sites.google.com/site/kauaiial/.)
John Summers, Maui County Planning Department’s head of long-range planning, said that his department has been addressing the issue of protection of important agricultural lands largely through the process of updating the county’s general plan and community plans, which identify prime and productive agricultural lands.
“We’re trying to get those mapped so we have a set of specific county policies to make sure those lands can be kept in active production and protected for future generations,” he told Environment Hawai`i in a telephone interview.
Still, he acknowledged, state law requires additional steps beyond the county’s current planning process.
“Once we get clarity on that,” he said, referring to the county plan, “we’ll look at using the information and policy from that to inform and provide a starting point for the more formal HRS 205 process.”
Larry Brown with the long-range planning division of Hawai`i County’s Planning Department said his agency had not begun working on this issue.
“The question kept coming up: how much land do we need to set aside for the county’s current and future needs?” Karl Kim says about DURP’s efforts to identify IAL for Kaua`i.
The short answer: about 13,000 acres, if it goes without beef.
Last month, Kim, a DURP professor and executive director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center, updated the Hawai`i Economic Development Task Force on his agency’s progress so far.
Using input from an advisory committee of about 20 people, the group started by ranking the eight criteria identified in the state’s IAL law, Act 183. Sufficient water, not surprisingly, turned out to be the most important factor, followed by soil quality and whether the land was currently in production. Consistency with county plans ranked last.
Using the weighted criteria, DURP then assigned scores to every parcel of agricultural land on the island, with a maximum possible score of 40, then created maps for varying thresholds (10, 20, and 30 points).
Based on a threshold of 36 points, an average consumption of 2,500 calories per person per day and a diet prescribed by the Cancer Research Center, Kim determined that about 12,297 acres, not including those needed for beef production, would be necessary to feed Kaua`i’s 2010 population of 67,091 people. Nearly 21,000 acres would be needed if the population met its projected growth of 150,000 people by the year 2035. (The study determined that about 235,679 acres would be needed to meet the 2010 population needs for beef, and 287,788 for 2035’s. Both far exceed Kaua`i’s 136,552 acres of available agricultural land.)
Without beef production, according to Kim, there is enough land to grow food for all of the island’s residents, as well as biofuels. The 20-point scenario would provide enough land to cover all of the island’s transportation needs, he said.
In 2007, Kaua`i consumed 62.8 million gallons of fuel. Using banagrass, oil palm, eucalyptus, and leucaena, Kaua`i could produce some 65.11 million gallons a year of biofuel on lands not needed for food production, DURP found.
Kim admitted to the commission that things like the cost of commercial production and the ability to properly harvest and process biofuel crops remain challenges to meeting that projection.
At the end of his presentation, Kim asked the task force, which directs how the state barrel tax is spent, to fund a $300,000 study that would look closer at the food versus fuel dichotomy on Kaua`i.
“We would like it to be food AND fuel. This issue has come up about whether the biofuel industry will take away land to feed people,” he said.
Sylvia Yuen of the University of Hawai`i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources added that a similar issue exists with the seed corn companies that occupy so much of the island’s agricultural land. “It’s not food you ingest,” she said.
Kim also proposed a biofuels feasibility study that would cost less than $1 million and would include looking at where the island’s next landfill should be sited.
“Who’s going to fund infrastructure? Sustainability on an island-by-island basis is good, but from an economic perspective, you need scale,” said Richard Lim, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, after Kim’s presentation.
Lim, a task force member, asked whether there was any plan to look at sustainability from a statewide perspective. When looking at biofuel production, he added, “you’d want to think of O`ahu.”
Kim responded that a team of economists had addressed questions of scale and cost, but the project directive was to look at the land on Kaua`i first.
“A land perspective is different from economics,” he said. If one were looking only for immediate financial returns, building houses would be the best use for the land, he said.
Kim added that he chose to look at Kaua`i first since there are really only two counties with enough land to be self-sufficient — Kaua`i and the island of Hawai`i. And with Kaua`i, “there is the leadership to make things happen,” he said.
With regard to biofuels, Kim said his analysis did allow for some exports, but “it’ll be hard to make $12/gallon saleable.”
State Department of Agriculture director Russell Kokubun agreed with Lim that although the statute directs each county to identify its own IAL, there was a need to look at things comprehensively. Lim suggested that the state could try to get some American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to do a similar assessment for the whole state. Kim, who said his agency had been approached by other counties, suggested it was unlikely a study of O`ahu’s IAL would yield as good a result.
“On Kaua`i, there was a lot of public participation. … I don’t know on O`ahu if there would be interest to do this. Kaua`i still has a rural lifestyle,” he said.
— Patricia Tummons and Teresa Dawson
Volume 21, Number 11 May 2011