UH wildfire expert: Invasive grasses growing in the abandoned plantations fueled wildfires on Maui and Hawaii Island

Spectrum News

Invasive grasses growing in the abandoned plantations on Maui and Hawaii Island fueled the ongoing wildfires, according to a University of Hawaii at Manoa wildfire expert.

Clay Trauernicht, an Assistant Specialist at UH Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, said land management is necessary to prevent future wildfires in Hawaii.

Wildfires on Hawaii Island and Maui, fanned by strong winds from Hurricane Dore, which is passing south of the state, have burned through the land. On Maui, the historic town of Lahaina was destroyed, with 1,700 buildings burned. At least 55 people have been killed in the fires, but Gov. Josh Green has said the number of dead was likely to rise.

In Hawaii over the past three decades, many sugar plantations, pineapple farms and ranches shuttered. Flammable grasses grew densely in the untended land.

Hot, dry and windy conditions all lined up over the last week, making the invasive grasslands “incredibly prone to burning,” said Trauernicht. “Weather conditions really contributed to the explosive behavior that we saw.”

Dry air sucks the moisture out of the grasses, making them burn swiftly and spreading the wildfire faster.

Lahaina was especially vulnerable because the slopes above it were grasslands. These invasive grasses grow right up to the edge of the community.

There are “thousands of acres of uninterrupted grasslands” in Hawaii, said Trauernicht.

Along with problems created by the grasses, he noted the abandoned plantations rarely have properly maintained resources that firefighters can use to fight fires: roads and water.

Long before the fire started, Trauernicht said private landowners and government agencies needed to work together to reduce the amount of “fuels” for the fire. This includes turning abandoned plantation land back into agricultural land, planting forests with trees that will shade out the grass, and grazing with sheep, cattle or goats.

“If you had those kinds of practices being implemented across larger portions of the landscape … the footprints of these fires would be much, much smaller,” said Trauernicht. “Firefighters would have much better odds at containing them. It would be less risky for them.”

Homesteaders eye dispute between Fevella, Aila

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

“I understand the frustration, because there’s nothing the department has created except controversy.”

Keaukaha Community President Patrick Kahawaiolaa was referring to a letter sent Monday by state Sen. Kurt Fevella, the Senate minority leader, to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requesting a federal investigation of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Fevella, the Senate’s lone Republican, believes the DHHL should be using $125 million in trust funds appropriated by the state Legislature to build homestead lots for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries who are on a lengthy wait list.

He said in a statement Wednesday the DHHL’s decision to deposit the funds into a savings account “highlights the need for reform and renewed leadership at DHHL.”

“Your assistance is needed to review and investigate the actions of DHHL and determine whether DHHL has met its fiduciary duty to the Native Hawaiians beneficiaries,” wrote Fevella, who represents Oahu’s Ewa Plain, in his letter to Garland and Haaland.

Fevella — who actively opposed an unsuccessful bill in the Legislature to build a casino on DHHL land in Kapolei, Oahu — called it “disingenuous and misleading” for the department to seek additional state and federal funds “when they already possess a large sum of monies that can be used to build homes and construct needed infrastructure for beneficiaries.”

“If Fevella is right that the Legislature gave that money for infrastructure, and (the DHHL) failed to do it, then it’s exacerbating the problems of the people on the wait list on this island. It’s statewide, but on this island, as well,” Kahawaiolaa said Thursday.

William Aila, Hawaiian Homelands Commission chairman and DHHL director, said in a statement Monday the development of over 4,000 new homestead lots since 1995 leaves the DHHL with “over a half a billion dollars in private lending contingent liability that it is responsible for,” and the deposit of the $125 million is consistent with the Legislature’s Act 14 settlement in 1995 “to establish an endowment to serve the trust.”

Act 14 required the Legislature to pay $600 million to DHHL in 20 yearly payments of $30 million.

“It is our fiduciary kuleana to be sure the trust has enough money in its reserve to mitigate this risk against the state,” said Aila. “This commission, as well as previous commissions, has acted prudently in its fiduciary responsibility of this trust to ensure that homestead lots are developed in perpetuity.”

The DHHL said it was allocated $78 million by the Legislature for capital improvement projects this past legislative session — the largest capital improvement budget appropriation in the program’s history, but less than the $460 million the department said is needed.

Kahawaiolaa called the dispute between Fevella and Aila “sad.”

“I think there’s just a misunderstanding on Fevella’s part, but he’s on the right track. Fevella does not have obligations to the Native Hawaiian. Aila does. And that’s the missing part of the equation,” Kahawaiolaa said.

“They, the Department of Hawaiian Homes, were required to create a fund by the state Legislature for risk mitigation, for people who borrowed money from private lenders,” he said. “In ’83, I got a loan from the (DHHL) to build a home. At that particular point in time, they were morphing into ‘go borrow money from the outside.’”

Kahawaiolaa said it’s difficult for homesteaders to get loans from commercial lenders because the land is on 99-year leases for $1 a year and title belongs to the DHHL.

“On that type of loan, the lender cannot foreclose,” he said.

County Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who lives with her husband, Ian, on a Panaewa homestead lot, also noted “the lending problem that we have on Hawaiian Home Lands.”

“A lot of conventional mortgages are not available to beneficiaries on Hawaiian Home Lands because the banks don’t want to lend on leasehold, especially DHHL,” Lee Loy said. “And so DHHL is kind of stuck by saying, ‘OK, we’ll carry the mortgage for you folks.’”

Lee Loy didn’t take sides in the Fevella-Aila dust-up, but noted Big Island DHHL projects are in need of financing.

“We have a number of opportunities right here on the Big Island, whether it’s the project out in Honomu (or the) scattered lots program in Panaewa and some other programs that could use the funding and help Native Hawaiian beneficiaries realize housing,” she said.

The Honomu project for subsistence agriculture lots is in the environmental review process, where it’s been for a number of years.

“Honomu’s been waiting. That came up four years ago and there’s nothing going on there,” Kahawaiolaa said. “You’re going to put people on there without road and water? In 2021, we’re asking people, ‘Hey, we’ve got land out here in Honomu, but we’re going to do it with gravel roads and water catchment?

“There may be people who want to live that way, but I’m not one of those, nor would I want my children to do that.”

Six bids were received in March for the Panaewa project, which involves subdividing a 10-acre parcels on Mahiai Street into 16 subsistence ag lots with a new road and infrastructure improvements.

Hawaii real estate developer Peter Savio to offer condo-style ownership of solar farm

Star Advertiser
By Nina Wu –

Entrepreneur Peter Savio announced today that he will build a solar farm on Oahu and sell off units of solar in a revolutionary manner – the same way he sells condominium units.

Savio, who formed Savio Solar Power Solutions as a division of Savio Realty, said the solar units will be affordable and available to anyone to purchase and own, including those who live in condominiums, townhomes and apartments, as well as to nonprofits, condo associations and businesses.

“The ownership is what I’m changing,” Savio told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “It’s going to be a condo versus an LLC, a co-op, or a corporation. It’s going to be a condo, which local people understand.”

Savio said the solar farm will be built on approximately 25 acres out of 600 acres that he already owns on agricultural land in Waikele. He was originally planning a subdivision, but says this is “more important and pressing.”

He did not have specific details on the future solar farm’s output size, but said he expected to start small, and to hire a local solar company or several companies to build it.

So many solar projects are built by mainland companies, he said. This solar farm will be designed, built, and operated locally on Oahu.

“We’re testing the concept,” he said. “Right now people are nervous about solar companies, about the contract, about their roof, about everything. As soon as we make it a condo and everything’s local, they’re going to be more comfortable.”

Savio says a condominium style of ownership will be protected under Hawaii law and give owners control, as well as the ability to sell their solar units to another resident if moving, or give them to other family members. It will be easier to finance, he said.

“We’re making it so everyone in Hawaii can buy PV, so everyone can lower their electricity bills,” he said. “The solar moves with them because it’s tied to their electricity bill. When they die, they can give it away to their kids.”

Savio said he came up with the idea for selling solar units condo-style while sitting in on a lengthy, hours-long Honolulu City Council discussion via Zoom a few months ago.

Councilmembers were discussing how solar was not actually helping “the local guy,” he said, and Savio, who focuses on developing affordable housing projects, got a spark of inspiration.

This program will make solar ownership available to those who rent, as well as those living in multi-housing units who cannot install their own solar rooftop systems, and those who want to invest in solar, he said, with no money down required.

“Our program is all about opening the door so everyone can participate,” he said.

Savio said he was going to help the state reach its 100% renewables goal ahead of 2045.

“I want to get us there by 2030,” he said.

Although the project is still at least a year away, Savio is starting its community engagement process,.

Savio said his company will be transparent, and work collaboratively with multiple stakeholders by holding public co-design events every step of the way, from site selection to layout, equipment selection and benefit design.

A community advisory council will oversee equitable and culturally appropriate design. If this concept works, he said, he will consider expanding it to more acres of land.

Savio Solar Power Solutions is now taking non-binding, pre-registrations from those interested in the solar farm at SavioSolarPowerSolutions.com.

Nearly none of it is use for growing food. Hawaii has a large amount of agricultural farm.

Fab World Today
by Shubhangi Chavan –

The measure of land utilized for cultivating in Hawaii has contracted significantly since the 1930s. –

Almost 50% of Hawaii’s territories are assigned for horticulture, however just a negligible portion of the state’s 4.1 million sections of land are utilized for cultivating.

Government information shows that in 2017 when the latest farming evaluation was directed just 8% of the state’s agrarian grounds were utilized for developing harvests.

Another 18.5% was utilized for touching animals, 8% was forests and another 8% was sorted as “other,” which incorporates farmsteads, homes, structures and animals offices.

Despite the fact that admittance to land is probably the greatest test for would-be ranchers in Hawaii, an investigation of state and government information shows no deficiency of rural land.

However, not all land that is named rural is farmable, said Matthew Loke, a state Department of Agriculture director.

A portion of that land has steep slants or is out of reach, however there isn’t information to evaluate how much land is that way. There are likewise drafting and framework gives that may upset developing yields now and again for quite a long time at a time.

Part of the decline in agrarian land use is a result of modernizations in cultivating, which expanded proficiency and efficiency, he said. A piece of it has to do with the finish of enormous scope ranch cultivating and the decrease of horticulture as an industry all in all.

Contending land utilizes including from sunlight based and private turn of events, additionally impede more farming area from being completely used, nearby specialists say.

Government programs lately, for example, the Important Agricultural Lands, tried to lighten those issues by giving assessment motivators to proprietors of significant farmland, yet information and reports show the program has not profited numerous ranchers.

In the far off past, Hawaii’s rural impression looked drastically changed, said Kamuela Enos, head of the Office of Indigenous Innovation at the University of Hawaii. Food creation was everybody’s kuleana and a “practical consideration.” No work implied no utilization.

From that point forward, the islands’ agrarian frameworks have gone through a few changes from the native framework to the ranches and monocropping, and now to more limited size cultivates and broadened crops.

In contemporary society, horticulture has become substantially more ware based, with expanded capacity for harvests to be imported and traded, he said.

In any case, of late, with COVID-19 affecting Hawaii’s food production network and an expanded mindfulness for food maintainability, Enos said the local area is prepared to accept nearby cultivating, and further, Native Hawaiian practices that succeeded on these terrains numerous years prior.

“The emerging understanding of farming’s value is coming back,” he said.

Paradise Ranch owner speaks up

LIHU‘E — A controversial permit to fence off the easiest access to Lepe‘uli, known as Larsen’s Beach, was surrendered last month. But Paradise Ranch may still go ahead and fence off the access to protect the conservation district land next to this secluded North Shore beach.

The lateral access to Lepe‘uli runs parallel to the beach and guarantees an effortless walk down from a 140-foot elevation. However, the lateral access is on private property, and there are already two county-owned trails that guarantee access to Lepe‘uli.

Following the permit’s withdrawal, community members who had opposed the fence immediately cried victory. But before they were able to finish their victory lap, ranch workers placed two metal posts resembling a fence foundation at the entrance of the trail, prompting further outcry from those trying to preserve the access that goes through private property.

Paradise Ranch owner Bruce Laymon, however, said the metal posts are not fence posts.

Over the years, ranch workers have put up quite a few land demarcation posts, establishing the boundaries of the land Laymon leases from landowner Waioli Corporation, a private non-profit organization. But those posts keep being vandalized.

Tired of replacing the boundary demarcations, Laymon said he decided to install metal posts to indicate the property limits.