LIHUE — Several people in support of a petition that would preserve about 21,000 acres of agricultural land on the Westside testified in front the state Land Use Commission on Wednesday.
The petition, filed by Robinson Family Partners, would designate 76 percent of the agricultural land it owns — from Waimea to Hanapepe — to be used purely as Important Agricultural Lands, or IAL.
“It was important as stewards of the property that agriculture be perpetuated,” said Bruce Robinson, Robinson Family partner and fifth-generation landowner. “The family has been completely dedicated throughout its entire existence here to maintaining agriculture on the property.”
If the proposed 20,888 acres were designated as IAL, the Robinson Family would receive tax credits for petitioning to have the property become protected agriculture lands. Additionally, if at least 50 percent of the landowner’s ag property is designated IAL, counties would not be able to restrict the owners from using the property as ag land.
But some commissioners did raise concerns from the Department of Agriculture about 3,260 acres used for cattle grazing that includes steep slopes and rocky, mountainous terrain.
“We had a similar situation in Oahu where a private landowner wanted to petition for IAL and there was a small area the Department of Agriculture wanted for exclusion,” said LUC Commissioner Kent Hiranaga, Maui seat. “It created difficulty for myself to ignore recommendations from state agency. I’m having that same difficulty now.”
Robinson argued the lands in question are crucial for the almost 4,000 head of cattle on property.
“You get almost the double production on a hillside that you would get on a flat in rainy areas. You will get better pasture off of this country,” he said. “These hillsides are extremely important.”
Randy Uyehara, who worked for the Robinson Family for over 30 years, said the cattle utilized the slopes and the petitioned land ought to be designated IAL.
“This cattle in here, it goes all the way up,” he said. “Eventually, people can grow food from mauka to makai. Mauka crops would be at higher elevations could include crops like purple passion fruit, Kauai maile, mokihana berries.”
Commissioner Dawn Chang asked Robinson if there could be an alternative to cattle.
“The highest and best use is cattle at the moment,” Robinson replied. “There is nothing I foresee that could be better than that.”
Another concern from commissioners was water.
“In terms of findings of facts that the commissioner has to make, we have to say here’s the amount of water that’s available,” said LUC Vice-chair Jonathan Scheuer. “Not just what’s theoretically capable of being diverting versus the actual demand. I didn’t necessarily see that in your report.”
Thomas Witten, whose group PBR Hawaii planned the petition, said the almost 400 million gallons of water on the Robinson land would “be far under the capacity of the system.”
“Which then raises the question,” Scheuer said. “Is more water being diverted than being put in productive use?”
Discussion of the petition will reconvene at a public hearing on Sept. 20. Officials said a notice of the time and location will be made available to the public.