Disputed, delayed

LIHUE — After circulating several amendments, and following a spirited discussion, a Kauai County Council committee on Wednesday deferred for another two weeks a bill that seeks to tax crop-research land separate from other agricultural land.

Councilman Tim Bynum, the bill’s introducer, said the council is addressing what he described as an important issue — whether the research use of land, which produces no product, should get the same tax incentives as diversified agriculture.

“I’m simply posing the question,” he said. “We have these new uses, research uses, that have led to a very significant change in the impact on the community. Do we want to continue, as a county, to give the same tax subsidies to this use that we give to people who grow food or flowers or coffee?” 

Bill 2456, if passed, would establish “agronomics” as a new and separate real property tax class and exclude lands used primarily for crop research or parent seed production from the county’s definition of “agricultural use.”

Several amendments were circulated but not voted on by the council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee. Bynum and Councilman Gary Hooser each introduced amendments aimed at clarifying who exactly would be impacted. 

Hooser’s proposed amendment would classify parcels that are “used for the purpose of supporting the research and cultivation of living organisms that are regulated by the federal government in the agronomics category. 

An amendment circulated by Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura would allow the county to categorize biotech research land without taking it out of ag dedication. Instead, it would create “biotech research” as a third ag land assessment classification, in addition to pasture and diversified ag. 

Wednesday’s meeting was not without accusations and back-and-forth commentary. 

During public testimony, an emotional David Arakawa, executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii, laid out several “troubling” concerns with the proposal, including that it appears to target the genetically modified organisms industry. He said councilmembers, by now, should know where that could land them — in court.

“You cannot put lipstick on a pig,” he said about the bill which he believed would be pre-empted by state law as was recently ruled in regards to Ordinance 960.

Hooser said the county already treats and taxes different types of agriculture differently. He and Bynum both described Arakawa’s comments as “disingenuous.” 

“People hear these accusations that we’re targeting and it’s against the law to do this kind of thing, that we’re going to wind up in court. You know, it’s just, I find it — disingenuous. It is a good word,” Hooser said. “The county clearly has the legal authority over taxes, property taxes. We clearly have the legal authority to chose different classes, different uses and designate them as such, and set different rates.”

“To have this misinformation be spewed from the microphones is inappropriate,” he added of Arakawa.

If passed, the agronomics rate classification would include parcels that are “used for no other purpose than science, research and development of crops” and which “do not directly gain monetary profit from the ultimate consumer,” according to the bill. Additionally, it would require the county director of finance to submit annual reports involving all agricultural dedicated properties to the mayor and county council.

The council committee is expected to vote on amendments to the bill during its meeting Sept. 17. 

Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.


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