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A Carleton Ching redux?

The governor's choice to fill a vacancy on the state's Water Commission is just as bad as his first choice to lead the DLNR.

Update: More on the Balfour nomination here.

Governor Ige announced his choice to fill a vacancy on the Commission on Water Resources Management (CWRM) yesterday, and the selection raises similar concerns among environmentalists as his initial choice to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Carleton Ching.

Yesterday, April 9, the Senate received the governor’s nomination of Bill Balfour to sit on the commission (CWRM is chaired by the director of DLNR). His senate committee hearing will come before the Senate Water and Land committee (WTL), the same committee that rejected Carleton Ching’s nomination), on Wednesday, April 15, at 2:45 p.m. in room 224.

While Ige’s second DLNR chair nomination,  Suzanne Case, is a welcome 180 degree change from Ching, Balfour’s nomination comes with much of the same concern voiced about the career developer lobbyist.

Balfour has spent 39 years as a sugar company executive. He spent 19 years as president and manager of Pioneer Mill Company, Oahu Sugar Company, Lihue Plantation Company and McBryde Sugar Company. He also was an executive for Amfac, administrator for various Castle & Cooke of Honolulu departments and is a consultant for Monsanto. A major portion of his life has been spent diverting streams to sugar plantation uses. He has little conservation or public interest work to balance out these professional influences.

If developer-lobbyist Ching was a fox guarding the hen house of land use, Balfour is the same when it comes to water. Last October, Hawaii celebrated the return of previously sugar-plantation diverted waters to Iao Stream (traditionally Wailuku River) and Waikapu Stream in central Maui, after more than a century of diversions that had drained the streams dry. The governor’s nomination of Balfour would be a step backwards along that arc of progress.

“Experience exploiting local resources for private corporate benefit does not translate into ability to manage natural resources in the public interest,” wrote activist Evan Tector in his opposition testimony sent to the WTL committee. “Mr. Balfour would vote with the corporations 100 percent of the time and is essentially a ‘ringer’ for plantation, big chemical agriculture and land developer private corporate interests.”

The East Maui Streamflow decision is coming up before CWRM in the near future, and Mr. Balfour would have a major conflict on this issue, which is important to stream ecosystem function, estuaries, small local agriculture and native culture.

“He would be equally unrepresentative of the public interest on every other statewide stream, aquifer, watershed and environmental issue that comes before [CWRM],” wrote Tector.

The nomination is particularly ominous considering that there was a much better candidate the governor could have chosen: Denise Antolini. Antolini is perhaps one of the most highly qualified candidates to sit on the commission, as one of the best water law experts in the state.

Balfour has already gone on record, during his previous service, in opposition to stream restoration in East Maui, Nā Wai `Ehā and the designation of the Keauhou Aquifer—three of the five major water issues now facing CWRM.

Governor Ige recently announced his position on the Keauhou groundwater management area designation petition: he believes it should be denied.

“This position is buoyed almost exclusively by developers, who do not want water to be a bar to their projects, and the county board of water supply, [which] is dependent on developer-agreements to complete water infrastructure,” wrote environmental attorney Bianca Isaki. “At CWRM’s October 16, 2013 meeting, Balfour insisted the Keauhou designation petition was ‘premature and unnecessary’ despite CWRM deputy William Tam’s repeated caution that CWRM had not yet reviewed much of the information, heard the petitioners’ testimony, nor seen the results of pertinent studies.”

Water commissioners are entrusted with carrying out the state’s public trust obligations, and this appointment is deeply embedded in developer interests in water. It is just as inappropriate to appoint Balfour to the Water Commission as it would have been to appoint Ching to the DLNR.

But, as we learned during the March episode with Mr. Ching, the people’s voice does count and will be heard—provided we take just as strong an interest and stance against this nomination as we did to Mr. Ching’s. Don’t go to sleep, Hawaii. Constant vigilance is what is required by all of us to keep these corporate developer interests in check with conservation, traditional cultural rights and the interests of the everyday citizen.