Maui County Council members backed off approval of a bill to create the Lanai Water Advisory Committee on Friday after hearing unanimous testimony against the proposal.
The measure was recommitted to the Water Resources Committee by an 8-1 vote, with Council Member Mike White casting the only dissenting vote.
The bill would establish the Lanai Water Advisory Committee by ordinance. Such a committee was established by a county Board of Water Supply resolution in 1999. Its aim was to provide public input and involvement during development of the Lanai Water Use and Development Plan and to monitor its implementation. The panel continues to advise the Department of Water Supply, although the Lanai water system is operated privately by the Lana'i Water Co.
Board of Water Supply member Don Gerbig testified against establishing the advisory panel by ordinance, saying it would be adding an "unnecessary level of bureaucratic regulation," which would have no authority over matters already overseen by state agencies.
John Stubbart, director of utilities for the Lana'i Water Co., said that if the panel were established it should include a seat for a representative from the Lanai resort and a standing position for the island's director of utilities.
He also suggested that there should be a 30-day time limit for the panel to respond to permits or other matters that come before it.
David Green, president of the Manele Bay Homeowners Association and a member of the Lanai Planning Commission, said that the island's planning commission did not have enough members present during a recent meeting to take an official stand on the proposed measure.
"It is not clear what problem this bill is meant to resolve," he said.
He said four out of five members who did attend the meeting were not in favor of establishing the advisory committee as stated in the bill.
Green said the panel maintained that the Lanai Planning Commission should pick the members of the advisory panel and one member also should be on the island's planning commission.
He said he interpreted the bill as the County Council indicating that it "lacks confidence in the Lanai Planning Commission to decide water issues on its own."
Such a water advisory panel should not need to post official agendas and keep full minutes, Green said.
"I think it's overkill," he said.
Department of Planning Deputy Director Michele Chouteau McLean said that the Planning Department opposes the measure for several reasons.
She said the county has no regulatory role over a private water system, which is regulated by the state Commission on Water Resource Management, among other state agencies.
The Planning Department also doesn't have the funding or the personnel to staff another board, she said.
The department already staffs eight boards and commissions and is not eager to add a ninth, McLean said.
Following public testimony, council members debated whether to approve or reject the measure or return it to committee for further discussion.
Council Member Riki Hokama, who holds the council's Lanai residency seat, said that the proposal had support in committee, and he continued to believe the panel was needed to maintain oversight over water issues on the island.
The community panel would take a conservative approach in protecting the island's water resources and "not jeopardize the aquifer of that island for development," Hokama said.
"I still believe it's the right thing to do," he said.
White said he opposed the measure because he was concerned about it setting a precedent for county advisory panels established to oversee more than a dozen other private water companies in the county. He also questioned the cost involved in staffing such a panel.
Council members decided to send the bill back to committee, although Water Resources Committee Chairman Mike Victorino said it was unlikely - with a busy council schedule for the rest of the year - that the matter would come back before the committee until the new council begins its term next year.
In other action, council members gave initial approval to a measure requested by Xorin Balbes of Soulspace Ranch, located at 1813 Baldwin Ave. in Makawao, for a state district boundary amendment for about 5.66 acres.
The measure would allow continued use of existing dormitory facilities, historically known as the Fred Baldwin Memorial Home, and on-site educational programs, including exercise, yoga, metaphysics, water sports training, agriculture and Hawaiian cultural practices. The bill also would allow the development of a proposed college with a 7,090-square-foot classroom facility and a pool.
Council Member Elle Cochran voted against the measure, saying she had reservations about the project and the sincerity of its developer.
In other matters:
* Council members passed on second a final reading land-use measures to allow the development of single-family home lots on property near the Pukalani Country Club.
* Councilors gave final approval to a bill to fix the real property tax rate at $150 per year for the unmarried surviving spouse of a veteran who died while on duty or for a veteran who became totally disabled as a result of a service-connected injury while on duty.
* Council members passed on second-and-final reading a bill to appropriate $50,000 as the Maui County's matching funding for the "Veterans' One Call One-Click Program." The U.S. Department of Transportation's share of the program cost is $233,129, while Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. is adding $10,721. The program would assist veterans and residents in accessing transit information by making a single phone call.
* Councilors gave final approval to a budget amendment to move $830,534 from funds anticipated to lapse from various capital improvement projects to make repairs at the Hana base yard caused by heavy rains and flooding in March.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.