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Gov. Ige to Allow Public Land Lease Extension Bill to Become Law

Hamakua Coast Big Island
Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Gov. David Ige plans to allow a bill to become law that could extend public land leases for up to 40 years if tenants agree to significantly improve the property.

Supporters of HB 499 say it will attract long-term investments in these lands. Critics argue it could open the door to public lands being held in private hands for more than 100 years.

With overwhelming opposition from Native Hawaiians and environmental groups, Ige says he shares the concerns of critics but he also recognizes a need to provide a mechanism to extend these leases.

He said, "Especially since the process would include opportunities for public comment on any lease extension that would be considered. It would provide for opportunities to ensure transparency in the transactions, that I felt that allowing that bill to become law would be the best course at this time."

The measure authorizes the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to directly negotiate lease extensions with tenants of public lands.

These leases currently have a maximum term of 65 years, with some tenants approaching the end of their leases. Tenants are eligible for an extension under the bill if they commit to investing at least 30% of the property’s fair market value into renovations or developments to the property.

Healani Sonoda-Pale has spent the last six months opposing this measure. She’s the public affairs officer for the Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi Political Action Committee.

"This act is going to give developers forever leases. It's going to change the way things are done. There’s going to be very little oversight now over the lands," she said.

The BLNR oversees 1.3 million acres of land statewide, a majority of which generates millions of dollars a year to support five public trust purposes, including schools, agricultural development, capital improvements, parks, and the betterment of the condition of Native Hawaiians.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said, "Less than 1% of the 1.3 million acres under DLNR management generate revenue that could potentially benefit from HB499."

Updated: June 28, 2021 at 9:36 AM HST
June 28, 2021 - Updates from the Hawai‘i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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