Kauai launches IAL study

News Report
Joan Conrow
Kauai County is now in the process of deciding whether agricultural land like Lee Roversi’s North Country Farms should be classified as “important.” Photo by Joan Conrow

KAUAI—Kauai has begun the process of determining which of its agricultural lands should be deemed “important,” making it the first county in the state to launch such a study.

The idea of identifying Important Ag Lands (IAL) is not new. It was proposed at the 1978 Constitutional Convention, and an amendment to the Constitution requiring the state to “conserve and protect agricultural lands, promote diversified agriculture, increase agricultural self-sufficiency, and assure the availability of agriculturally suitable lands” won voter approval that same year.

But the issue didn’t pick up much steam until 2008, when state lawmakers approved an incentive package to encourage landowners to voluntarily seek such a designation for their acreage. The package includes loan guarantees, tax credits, worker housing, and a controversial provision that allows a landowner to pursue development on 15 percent of the IAL acreage.

Further, landowners who voluntarily seek IAL designation for half their land holdings will not have the remainder classified as IAL.

So far, only Alexander & Baldwin has taken advantage of the incentive package, with the state Land Use Commission approving the firm’s request to designate first 3,773 acres on Kauai and then 27,000 acres on Maui as IAL.

Now on Kauai, where some 150,000 acres are classified as agriculture, the county has begun a study to determine which should get the IAL designation, a decision that will be binding on the landowners. A kick-off meeting for the process was held this past week.

Dr. Karl Kim of the University of Hawaii Department of Urban & Regional Planning designed the process for identifying IALs using specific criteria, such as availability of water, whether the land is currently being farmed, its proximity to infrastructure and its contribution to maintaining a critical land mass for ag.

Applications are being accepted through October 9 for positions on a 12- to 15-member stakeholder/technical advisory committee that Mayor Bernard Carvalho and the County Council will appoint. The committee will conduct pubic workshops and make recommendations about the acreage that should be designated as IAL.

It’s still unclear whether the county will rank all its ag lands in order of importance, which some fear could open the door to widespread development, or merely designate the most important lands.

For more information, as well as an application for the committee, visit http://sites.google.com/site/kauaiial/.