Morita resigns from PUC

LIHUE — Hermina “Mina” Morita has resigned as chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, Gov. David Ige’s office said Monday.

The announcement comes less than a month after the state Land Board reached a settlement with Morita and her husband, Lance Laney, over the bed and breakfast the couple illegally built and operated for more than a decade in Hanalei.

Cindy McMillan, a spokeswoman for Ige, said Morita did not give a reason for resigning. Attempts to contact Morita for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Rep. Derek Kawakami, who replaced Morita as the District 14 representative in 2011, described Tuesday’s news as a huge loss for the state.

“(She) worked tenaciously for the people of Hawaii and aggressively pursued energy independence,” he said.

Kawakami added that while it would be sad to see Morita go, he was happy to see her do so on her own terms.

Prior to being appointed to the PUC position by former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Morita represented Kauai as a member of the state House of Representatives, serving as chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

Ige acknowledged Morita as a leader in the state’s efforts to reduce dependency on imported oil and to develop local, renewable and clean energy resources.

“She has dedicated her life to creating a better environment and more sustainable communities,” he said.

In March, amid rumors that he did not plan to re-appoint the Kauai resident, Abercrombie released a statement that he would keep Morita on a “holdover basis.”

“At the present time, Chair Morita has business before the Board of Land and Natural Resources, which must be addressed,” Abercrombie added, referring to the controversy surrounding Morita’s North Shore getaway. “She will continue to serve in the position while these issues are being resolved.”

In late May, following an investigation by DLNR staff into allegations that the couple operated the bed and breakfast, Taro Patch Hale, in a state conservation district without permission, the Land Board issued $31,000 in fines and ordered the landowners to completely remove the two rental cottages — named Lii Cottage and Nui Cottage — and “discontinue all commercial activity” on the property.

Last month, following a contested case hearing, the fine was lowered to $15,000. The couple was given 90 days to pay the fine and tear down the two rental cottages, according to terms of the settlement.

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