Crown lands: New development arm of DLNR unbound by preservation mission
HONOLULU—At the end of the legislative session in May, Senate Bill 1155, introduced by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D), became law, creating an entity known as the Public Land Development Corporation.
The corporation was created as a way to “better use” public lands under the jurisdiction of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Through the corporation, the State is now more able to develop untouched lands and bypass restrictions the DLNR faces in its mission, which is to “Enhance, protect, conserve, and manage Hawaii’s unique and limited natural, cultural, and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of visitors and the people of Hawaii nei in partnership with others from the public and private sectors.”
While the development purpose of the corporation directly conflicts with DLNR’s conservation responsibilities, the Public Land Development Corporation has been set up to act as a separate entity with influence on DLNR decisions.
The text of the bill reads: “Public lands in certain areas may serve the State and its people better if managed and developed into suitable recreational and leisure centers where the public can congregate and where visitors to our State can go as part of their holiday experience. However, DLNR is hamstrung by its limited mission. Creating a development arm of DLNR, similar to the agribusiness development corporation, and placing appropriate public lands into the new corporation’s jurisdiction, may help to create these recreation and leisure areas, while also creating revenue-generating opportunities for the new corporation.”
The corporation, essentially, is an arm of DLNR not bound by the responsibilities of DLNR with the purpose of redeveloping public lands for monetary gain.
This Tuesday, August 30, Hawaii lawmakers will hold a joint informational briefing to discuss the status of the Public Land Development Corporation. The briefing will take place at the State Capitol Room 16 at 10:00 a.m. The briefing will be run by the Senate Committee on Water, Land and Housing and the House Committee on Water, Land, and Ocean Resources.
“The briefing will provide the public with an overall perspective on the optimization plan regarding the Public Land Development Corporation, its staff, and its duties,” Dela Cruz said in a statement. “People will also hear the process in which potential projects are identified. Our public facilities are dilapidated and underutilized.”
According to Dela Cruz, the corporation will identify public lands that are suitable for redevelopment, administer marketing analysis to determine the best revenue-generating programs for the public lands, and enter into public-private agreements to redevelop the public lands.
The overall purpose of the Corporation is to generate revenues that may be used to offset the regulatory functions of DLNR.
“The bottom line is we have to stimulate the economy in small communities, such as Wahiawa,” Dela Cruz said. “We must create jobs and this is an out-of-the box opportunity for businesses and entrepreneurs to partner with the State to get the economy going again.”
In June, StatehoodHawaii.org’s Arnie Saiki warned about the impact that the Public Land Development Corporation would have on Hawaii’s “ceded lands”—or the roughly 1.8 million acres of Crown Lands once claimed by the Territory and then transferred to the administration of the State of Hawaii during statehood.
These lands hold a critical role in the ongoing reconciliation process between the State and Native Hawaiians, who still hold claim to the lands.
In the essay “PLOP: Act 55–DLNR’s Public Land Optimization Plan,” Saiki wrote: “In order for Hawaii to participate in this ‘regional’ market, the State has to deregulate our environmental and land-use safeguards in order to lease out our resources, and make it attractive for investors and stakeholders.”
Saiki described how the Public Land Development Corporation’s public-private investment opportunities may include the developing of “ceded lands.”
While lawmakers’ presentation on the future of the Public Land Development Corporation—and which lands they are planning to develop—will no doubt raise many questions, no public testimony will be accepted at the August 30 briefing.
Joint informational briefing on Public Land Development Corporation on Tuesday, August 30 at 10:00 a.m. in State Capitol Room 16