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Balfour: strike two for David Ige?

Balfour's record during his prior term on the Water Commission shows how inappropriate a choice he is; Ige risks a second failed nomination only a month after the Ching fiasco.

Will Caron

Yesterday I wrote an article comparing Governor Ige’s recent (and hushed—the governor’s website and Facebook are missing any announcement) nomination of Bill Balfour to sit on the Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) to the governor’s previous nomination of Carleton Ching to the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). It turns out the Balfour nomination is actually worse.

“Mr. Balfour has spent decades working for companies that divert millions of gallons of water a day from Hawaiian streams at the expense of native Hawaiian water rights, kalo and other farmers, and native species and ecosystems,” wrote Marjorie Ziegler of Conservation Council For Hawai‘i in an email alert regarding the nomination. “Mr. Balfour represents the old way of doing business in Hawaii, in which constitutionally guaranteed water rights, the public trust, and native species and ecosystems are ignored in favor of continued exploitation of the resource.”

Balfour has already served on CWRM (2010-14), a position that does not appear on his submitted resume to the governor. While serving on CWRM, his decisions on several major issues ran contrary to public trust doctrine and other mandates under the State Water Code:

He voted to give large water companies continued access to large amounts of water at the expense of restored stream flows and Hawaiian water rights in the Na Wai ‘Eha case in Central Maui. The commission’s decision was appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court and reversed.

He voted against granting Hawaiian practitioners a contested case hearing over Alexander & Baldwin subsidiary East Maui Irrigation Company’s long-standing and destructive diversion of millions of gallons of water per day from East Maui streams. The commission’s decision was appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court and reversed.

He voted to dismiss a petition to designate the Keauhou Aquifer as a Water Management Area before the petitioner, National Park Service, even had the opportunity to present its case, before the staff had presented any meaningful analysis of the petition, and despite then Deputy Bill Tam recommending against dismissal. Tam, who is highly respected by activists for his knowledge of the Water Code, said it would be wrong to deny the petition without hearing all the evidence. The petition is now moving forward and information is being gathered by the commission’s staff.

The mission of CWRM is unique in that it has clear and full roots in the public trust doctrine as applied to preservation in perpetuity of surface waters, aquifers, watersheds and the allocation of use. The State, as trustee of water resources, through CWRM, has the constitutionally-mandated responsibility to set policies, protect resources, define uses, establish priorities while assuring rights and uses, and establish regulatory procedures.

“The CWRM motto, ‘Ke Kahuwai Pono,’ exemplifies the Commission on Water Resource Management and its responsibility in protecting the water resources of Hawaii,” said activist Evan Tector. “In the Hawaiian language, wai is ‘water,’ kahu means ‘guardian, caretaker,’ and pono stands for ‘proper, righteous.’ Together, these words translate to ‘the trustee who oversees the rightful sharing of water.’”

Under the general direction of the Deputy Director for Water Resource Management, the CWRM staff provides administrative and technical support services to the commission. The staff’s primary responsibilities are to implement and administer the provisions of the State Water Code by planning, surveying, regulating, monitoring and conserving the state’s water resources within established plans that have been adopted by the commission.

Yet Balfour has gone on record, during his previous service on the commission, 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.

And with the rejection of the clearly more qualified candidate, Denise Antolini—perhaps one of the most highly qualified candidates to sit on the commission, as one of the best water law experts in the state—activists are once again preparing testimony to Senator Laura Thielen’s Committee on Water and Land (WTL) which will hold its hearing this coming Wednesday, April 15 (2:45 p.m., room 224).

Sen. Thielen’s WTL committee rejected Carleton Ching despite a staunch push from Governor David Ige (and powerful developer interests) to have him appointed, because activists and citizens showed their overwhelming opposition to the inappropriate nomination. When it came time for the Senate to vote, the governor knew he did not have the votes and withdrew the nomination—a not-insubstantial blow to his political capital that came very early into his first term.

Now Governor Ige is making the exact same mistake with a candidate who is—remarkably—even more inappropriate for the position to which he is being nominated. Unlike Ching, who had no record of conservation or land stewardship experience, Balfour does has a record, with the same commission he’s now nominated for; and his record shows him to be a worse candidate than Ching was. It seems incredible that the governor would risk the same embarrassment and the same loss of capital all over again, and only a month later! Or does he think we’ve stopped paying attention?

Submit testimony on this nomination here.