Categorized | Environment

Gabbard requests public comment extension on Kona Critical Habitat

MEDIA RELEASE

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has sent a letter to Daniel M. Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting a 60-day extension of the public comment period for a proposed 18,766-acre critical habitat designation in West Hawaii.

The critical habitat designation would cover Hawaiian Home Lands, private lands, and the Kamakana Villages, a much-needed affordable housing development.

Gabbard said she believes the three rare species of plants that have been identified in the proposed area can be protected in harmony with continuing the current plans for economic growth.

“(Kamakana Villages) will provide much-needed affordable housing and is an integral part of the Kona Community Development Plan, which was created after years of diligent efforts by West Hawaii citizens,” Gabbard wrote in the letter. “Substantial public and private funds have already been invested in this vision, including $35 million in federal funding to complete the segment of Ane Keohokalole Highway in front of the development. With so much funding, effort, and time invested, there must be an adequate opportunity to present comments and concerns, and come up with a workable solution.”

Gabbard has worked with several key stakeholders, including the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu, who have also requested a 60-day extension so that all those impacted can review the designation proposal, have an opportunity to comment, and offer alternatives that sustain the economic development in the area and protect the three at-risk plant species.

Full text of Gabbard’s letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

May 30, 2013

The Honorable Daniel M. Ashe, Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW, Room 3359
Washington, DC 20240-1000

Dear Mr. Ashe:

I am writing to request that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service grant a 60-day extension on the public comment period for the Proposed Designation of Critical Habitat for 3 Species on Hawaiian Home Lands; Dockets FWS-R1-ES-2012-0070 and FWS-R1-ES-2012-0028, to allow landowners, developers, and the Hawaii Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) to submit additional comments on the proposed designation of critical habitat.

The current deadline for public comment is May 30, 2013. Enclosed is DHHL’s request for an extension to the public comment period dated May 15, 2013.

The 18,766 acres of land on Hawaii Island currently has many uses and many owners. Included in this land is Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu workforce housing community, which has been in development since 2008 by the State of Hawaii and the Hawaii Housing Finance & Development Corporation.

This project will provide much-needed affordable housing and is an integral part of the Kona Community Development Plan, which was created after years of diligent efforts by West Hawaii citizens and elected officials. Substantial public and private funds have already been invested in this vision, including $35 million in federal funding to complete the segment of Ane Keohokalole Highway in front of the development.

With so much funding, effort, and time invested, there must be an adequate opportunity to present comments and concerns.

As you may know, DHHL’s mission to provide homesteads for its native Hawaiian beneficiaries represents a unique relationship between the Federal Government and the State of Hawaii. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, enacted by the United States in 1920, recognizes that placing native Hawaiians on the land is of the utmost importance.

USFWS’s proposed critical habitat designation may have a significant impact on this program.

Accordingly, it is vital that DHHL be afforded an adequate opportunity to review and comment on the proposed critical habitat designation to ensure that its fiduciary obligations to native Hawaiians are not impaired.

Additionally, the Queen Liliuokalani Trust (QLT) is facing the potential loss of 302 acres of land to the proposed critical habitat. The QLT is a small Native Hawaiian trust with a huge responsibility to care for Native Hawaiian orphaned and destitute children, as directed by Queen Liliuokalani when she established her Trust in 1909. The proposed critical habitat would take more than half of the current developable lands that are left to generate revenues for beneficiaries.

QLT could lose more than $65 million in future revenues if the proposed critical habitat were designated. With so much at stake, there must be a chance to work out an agreeable solution for all involved.

These are only a few of the concerns I have heard from my constituents. Due to the large amount of land and varying uses of the land, I urge you to grant a 60-day extension on the public comment period.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,
Tulsi Gabbard
Member of Congress

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