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‘The tip of the iceberg’

LIHUE — Two Kauai County Council members will introduce a resolution Wednesday that would establish a committee to investigate the implementation of county laws dealing with the dedication of land for agricultural use.

Councilman Tim Bynum said it has become “overwhelmingly apparent” that a deeper look must be taken at what he says are numerous violations of county law by the island’s agrochemical industry and large landowners. Those alleged violations include landowners and their lessees failing to properly adjust real property taxes, resulting in what could be millions in unpaid liabilities, and obtain conservation plans for new operations.

“They operated without conservation plans, I know that, all over the island,” Bynum said.

If the resolution is approved, the committee would be tasked with investigating the issues. It would utilize a qualified independent investigative firm or individual to assist in conducting the investigation, according to the resolution.

At its conclusion, the committee would make recommendations, which could include measures to improve the county’s process of managing the law, changes to the Kauai County Code, improvements regarding regulation, adding county staffing resources to fully enforce and regulate, and dealing with alleged misconduct.

In addition to co-introducing the measure with Councilman Gary Hooser, Bynum has requested the presence of Deputy County Attorney Mona Clark on Wednesday to provide an update of her investigation into three specific properties receiving ag land dedication and their compliance with County Ordinance 808 related to grading, grubbing and stockpiling.

On one parcel, along Ahukini Road between the Lihue Airport and Walmart, urban-zoned land was reclassified as ag dedicated in 2010 “without any evidence that required dedication petitions were received and processed in a timely manner,” resulting in more than $1.096 million in lost county tax county tax revenue between 2010 and 2014, Bynum wrote in a letter to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. in May.

The landowners are listed as Visionary LLC and Haili Moe Inc, both affiliated with Grove Farm Company. The lessee on the parcel in question is genetically modified organism producer Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

The other two properties Clark is investigating are in Puhi, south of the Kauai Humane Society, owned by Cumberland and Western Resources LLC and operated by Dow AgroSciences, and another in Lihue, near German Hill, owned by Grove Farm and operated by Pioneer.

While Clark said she could not discuss her findings prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Bynum said his understanding is that those findings confirm his own.

“As I peel away the onion, I find more problems,” he said.

In a letter to Bynum dated Sept. 18, two days after a meeting between Bynum and County Managing Director Nadine Nakamura, Carvalho discussed Clark’s ongoing work to research the three properties.

“She is currently refining a chronology of events, analyzing laws applicable to each property, calculating potential rollback taxes, and determining whether laws and regulations were followed,” he wrote. “Our preliminary finding is that there may be irregularities, and we would like to conduct additional research to ensure a thorough investigation.”

He included a more than two-month timetable, with specific deadlines for sending letters to landowners, conducting interviews, revising tax rollback calculations and implementing next steps, including a money bill, if necessary.

On Monday, in light of the complexity of the investigation, Carvalho sent a letter to Council Chair Jay Furfaro requesting that both council agenda items — the resolution and Clark’s communication — be deferred to Dec. 17.

“After discussing this matter with both the Department of Finance and Department of Public Works, I decided to initiate an in-depth internal review of the three properties identified by Council Member Bynum,” he wrote.

“We appreciate the work (he) had done to inform us of this issue and the respectful dialogue that has taken place. I believe this will lead to meaningful changes.”

Bynum said he was disappointed to hear about the mayor’s request, which comes more than a year after he initially began inquiring about ag dedications.

“The mayor is failing to deal with the scope and acknowledge that these three (parcels) are the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Attempts to contact representatives of Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences Monday were not successful.

Wednesday’s council meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Historic County Building.

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

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