12,000 acres of Kekaha ag land up for lease

The Agribusiness Development Corporation is negotiating with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for a master lease for 12,000 acres of agricultural land in Kekaha.

The “Kekaha Committee” of Agribusiness Development met in Honolulu Nov. 7, but because it had questions about minor lease conditions, it took no action, according to Agribusiness executive director Alfredo Lee.

Should Agribusiness, which manages the land for the DLNR, obtain the master lease, it could offer long-term leases to current users of the land, formerly used by Kekaha Sugar.

The current users include Gay & Robinson, the last sugar plantation on Kaua’i, and Syngenta Seed Inc. and others.

The leases would help strengthen the aquaculture and agricultural enterprises in west Kaua’i and preserve land for future agricultural uses.

Agribusiness is attached to the state Department of Agriculture and its primary goal is to coordinate the development of Hawai’i’s agricultural industry and help support the transition from sugar to diversified agriculture.

Agribusiness took over the management of the 12,000 acres after Kekaha Sugar plantation, a subsidiary of Amfac, closed its doors two years ago and vacated the land in February 2001.

The current users of the land have month-to-month revocable permits and are seeking a long-term lease from Agribusiness, Lee said.

“We are in the process of getting the master lease, and once we get it, we will be able to issue long-term leases,” Lee said.

The Kekaha committee also approved:

– A consent to do business with the Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op, the new owner of the Kauai Electric utility.

With electricity generated by the two power plants under its control, Agribusiness has sold electricity to Citizens Utility and has bought electricity from the utility.

With approval by the Agribusiness committee, Agribusiness can now do the same with KIUC, Lee said.

– A status report on the electric company’s proposal to reroute lines in Koke’e.

Citizens Utility previously signed a contract with the federal government to reroute lines that run from agricultural land up to Koke’e State Park, Lee said.

The utility company previously wanted approval from Agribusiness to move the power lines closer to the road to facilitate repairs and to reduce construction costs, Lee said.

The Agribusiness committee also reviewed but took no action on these items:

– The proposed formation of the Kekaha Agricultural Association, comprised of current users of the 12,000 acres, to manage “common areas,” including two hydropower plants, irrigation systems and power lines, Lee said.

– A status report on Navy contracts related to the 12,000 acres. Agribusiness maintains two pumping stations that remove water from the region and prevent water from going onto the base.

The Navy, Lee said, has provided funds to upgrade the pumps and maintain drainage systems and plantation power lines in the region.

– A request by the Kauai Water Department to acquire the Kekaha and the Huluhulunui shafts from the DLNR through an executive order by the governor.

With the closing of Kekaha Sugar and a reduced need for water by diversified agricultural interests, the water department inquired about taking over the two shafts, Lee said.

Agribusiness, however, needs the irrigation water from the Huluhulunui Shaft and probably would not relinquish the shaft to the water department, Lee said.

The other shaft is another story, as it can produce drinking water needed by the water department for its customers, Lee said.

At a 10:30 a.m. meeting the same day, the board of directors of Agribusiness reviewed status reports on agricultural lands in Kekaha and the Kauai Tropical Fruit Disinfestation facility.

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