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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Big Settlement Resolves Hawaii Land Question

HONOLULU (CN) - Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie ended a 33-year-old dispute Wednesday by signing into law an historic settlement of ownership to Hawaiian homelands.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs says it holds in trust $200 million worth of "contiguous and adjacent" oceanfront property, excepting state easements, water and mineral rights. The settlement dismisses all previous, related lawsuits.

Since Hawaii joined the union in 1959, its state constitution has required that certain lands - "ceded" by the U.S. to Hawaii - are held in public trust. OHA is one such trustee, and the others include the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, the Queen Emma Foundation, the Queen Lili'uokalani Trust, Lunalilo Trust and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

All administer use of native lands for the purposes of medical care, welfare and homesteading for the people of Hawaii, and ensure sufficient public input concerning that use.

Abercrombie's office explained Wednesday that, "in exchange for the land, OHA will release, waive and discharge any and all claims that it, and any other person or entity, might make to ceded lands receipts under article XII, sections 4 and 6 of the Constitution, or any related statute or law, for the period from 1978 to July 1, 2012."

When the bill was passed to the state Legislature for review in February, Abercrombie said the settlement would have "no effect on claims that might be made related to overthrow or sovereignty, or claims related to ceded lands receipts for future periods, which are currently governed by Act 178 (2006)."

Once the leases expire, OHA will decide how to proceed, consistent with city rules.

OHA is now vigorously pursuing ways to develop the land, consistent with Hawaii Community Development Authority's master plans and zoning rules. Its plans included high-rises and residences for Native Hawaiians.

The area includes the Kaka'ako Waterfront Park and Fisherman's Wharf. Notable parts of the proposed settlement give the state continued easements, as well as ground and water rights.

Such rights in the Kaka'ako area could pertain to a federally funded, proposed High-Capacity Transit Corridor rail project that faces litigation in federal court.

The rail would pass through the Kaka'ako area, but some say that the city failed to conduct historic preservation surveys in spite of the existence of Native Hawaiian burials.

Regardless, the settlement is a victory for Hawaiians.

"We will balance cultural and environmental considerations with the need to support programs that benefit the Native Hawaiian community," OHA Chairwoman Collette Machado said in a statement. "We strongly believe that our success is tied to the community's vision for Kaka'ako."

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