Native Hawaiian dispute puts cap on Koloa bottling company

With county Planning Department approval, Kaua‘i Springs owner James Satterfield has operated the island’s only spring-fed water-bottling facility since 2003.

Yesterday, the Planning Commission brought his business to a grinding halt.

During a meeting at the Lihu‘e Civic Center, the commission rejected Satterfield’s request to reconsider a January decision denying permits for his project.

At the time, the commission rejected requests for a use permit, a special permit and a Class IV Zoning permit following arguments from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and others that the project took surface water that is part of a public trust. But Kaua‘i attorney Harvey Cohen, representing Satterfield, argued the water comes from a privately owned underground water system.

Satterfield said he is a small businessman who has seen government cancel out his livelihood — at least for the moment.

“I am going to court,” he said after the meeting. “I don’t need those permits.”

His supporters said Satterfield has secured federal, state and county approvals to run his project, and questioned why he needs the new permits today.

“He didn’t need a land use permit three years ago,” said Channon Donovan. “So why does he need it today?”

By a 4-1 vote, the commission rejected his request and is poised, according to Satterfield, to issue a cease-and-desist order.

In voting to shut down the facility, Randal Nishimura said he doesn’t believe the county has clear authority to remove a water resource, and that the issue may be resolved only in court.

Offering the only vote for reconsideration, commissioner Steven Weinstein said water, not land, is at the center of the issue.

“I felt we needed another agency to dictate to us whether it was acceptable to use water in this way,” he said after the meeting. “It was not for us to make that decision.”

He said he would have attached a condition requiring Kaua‘i Springs to obtain necessary permits from another agency within six months. “Rather than slam the door today, I would have given six months,” Weinstein said.

Satterfield said Mayor Bryan Baptiste suggested he and his group file a motion for reconsideration as part of the process, and agreed to continue discussion to flesh out the issue.

Speaking against reconsideration of the denial, Ka‘iulani Huff, a kanaka maoli representing the indigenous people of Hawai‘i, said the water is a natural resource that belongs to the kanaka maoli.

On the strength of a measure signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993 apologizing for the takeover of Hawai‘i, the kanaka have clear right to the water.

“Put everyone on alert,” she said. “Alert everyone they are on stolen land and on borrowed land.”

In a letter to Nishimura, OHA administrator Clyde Namu‘o said the agency is deeply concerned because the issue involves the “use of an important public trust resource — fresh water — for personal gain, apparently without consideration of the impact on public trust purposes.”

Namu‘o states they include maintaining waters in their natural state and the exercise of Native Hawaiian and traditional and customary rights.

He indicated the commission’s powers are confined to land-use only.

Namu‘o states the Hawai‘i Supreme Court has found that where surface water and underground water mix and become part of a single system, water rights can be protected.

Jason Donovan of Sustain Kauai, whose goal is to make the island self-sufficient, said Kaua‘i Springs was only required to obtain the permits after an unnamed water company complained that Kaua‘i Springs has conducted an industrial activity on agricultural lands.

He said the commission was initially ready to approve the permits with conditions as long as the company satisfied concerns of the state Commission on Water Resource Management.

“Rather than give us enough time to get an adequate response, the commission rejects it,” Donovan said.

Cohen said Menehune Water, Hawaiian Springs and other water bottling companies in Hawai‘i have government licenses to operate on agricultural lands with special-use permits, and that his client only wants to continue to do the same.

Donovan and Satterfield said Kaua‘i Springs’ 1,600-square-foot bottling facility is located makai of Maluhia Road in Koloa, and the company has leases to draw water from a spring on land owned by the Knudsen Trust and to use a water line maintained by Grove Farm company, they said.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or


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