Commission OKs AG petition

LIHUE — A state commission on Tuesday voted in favor for a petition that would preserve about 21,000 acres of agricultural land on the Westside owned by Robinson Family Partners.

The State Land Use Commission voted 6-1 to designate 76 percent of the agricultural land owned by the Robinson Family — from Waimea to Hanapepe — to be used purely as Important Agricultural Lands, or IAL, after listening to testimony from Kauai County, the Office of Planning and the Department of Agriculture that supports the petition’s request.

With the vote, the Robinson family may now receive receive tax credits for the protected agriculture lands. Since 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.

“This landowner (Bruce Robinson) is committed to keeping this land in agriculture use,” said LUC Commissioner Dawn Chang. “He has demonstrated by his family’s historic practices — the fact that there are still family members that continue to work on the farm to pursue the next generation.”

Robinson, who attended the commission meeting Tuesday, declined to comment on the outcome of the vote to The Garden Island.

Six votes were required for the motion to pass. Commissioners Edmund Aczon, Dawn Chang, Kent Hiranaga, Gary Okuda, Linda Estes and Vice-chair Arnold Wong voted in favor of the motion.

The lone opposing vote came from LUC Vice-chair Jonathan Scheuer, who had concerns with the 3,260 acres of the proposed 20,888 acres that are used for cattle grazing.

“I see no realistic threat to development existing for these remote, mauka steep lands that they are successfully farming now,” Scheuer said. “The purpose (of the IAL) was to protect agricultural land from urbanization. I just don’t see that petition fulfilling that overall purpose.”

LUC members Aaron Mahi and Nancy Cabral were absent from the meeting.

The Department of Agriculture changed its stance on the 3,260 acres in question after Robinson ranchers and landowner Bruce Robinson testified on Sept. 7 that cattle graze on the elevated terrain.

“We do not oppose the designation of the 3,260 acre northern-most portion of the upper pasture as IAL,” said Earl Yamamoto, DOA planner.

Commissioner Hiranaga said he “would’ve appreciated advanced notice in the revised position in the Department of Agriculture.”

“Because they have removed the objection to the so-called ‘exclusionary area’ — although they may not support it being included in the IAL — I will be supporting the motion,” he said.

In August, the DOA questioned the 3,000-plus acres of land on steep and rocky portions of terrain, citing the original petition did not provide convincing evidence of agriculture use.

In addressing the agricultural use of the mauka lands, Michael Dahilig, County Planning Department director, said the county understands that not all farming fits a rubric.

“Sometimes when you look at what is being raised on a property, people that farm have a degree of innovation or ingenuity to provide productivity on their lands,” he said.

Officials with the state Office of Planning supported the petition.

“The petition serves and protects agricultural land; it increases agricultural self-sufficiency; and it assures the availability of agriculturally suitable lands,” said Rodney Funakoshi, planning program administrator, Land Use Division for the state Office of Planning.

The Robinson agricultural land, utilized by its Makaweli Meat Company ranching operation, is about 25,000 acres and holds 3,500 to 4,000 head of cattle.

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