Water Commission Nominees Confirmed Amid Growing Outcry

Sophie Cocke/ Civil Beat

The Senate confirmed Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s nominees to the water commission on Tuesday amid rising opposition toward the candidates and concerns about irregularities in the nominating process.

Ted Yamamura was confirmed by a 19-6 vote, and Jonathan Starr by a 22-3 vote.

Groups such as Earthjustice and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. have said that Yamamura lacks the legal qualifications for the position. They've questioned his connections to people involved in water commission decisions, namely large agricultural interests and developers.

Both Yamamura and Starr have defended their qualifications in the past and senators, including Malama Solomon, Donovan Dela Cruz and Pohai Ryan, have supported them.

The commission, which determines the allocation of water resources, is one of the most powerful in the state. Recent fights on Maui over water rights have centered on how much water can be diverted from streams for use by private companies involved in large-scale agricultural operations and land development. Earthjustice, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. have gone to court to contest two rulings by the water commission. One of them — The Na Wai Eha case — is before the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Isaac Moriwake, an attorney with Earthjustice, said the hearing was rushed in an effort to stave off growing criticism.

But Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz rejected that contention.

“It was more of us trying to meet deadlines and trying to fill various boards and commissions,” she said. “There aren’t any kinds of games when it comes to this.”

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