HTH – Group challenges decision on Kulani 9/24/10

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By PETER SUR Tribune-Herald staff writer

An advocacy group is challenging the state land board’s decision earlier this month transferring Kulani lands and the former Kulani Correctional Facility to the state Department of Defense.

Kat Brady, representing the Honolulu-based Community Alliance on Prisons, and two other individuals requested a contested case hearing during the Sept. 9 meeting of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

At issue was a request by the state to “approve of and recommend to the governor” that she cancel the executive orders and transfer the lands so they could be used for the Youth ChalleNGe Academy (a program for at-risk teens and young adults) and also for the Hawaii Army National Guard for training purposes.

The board approved the request by a 7-1 vote, but added that no military use or training could be done on that state land.

Brady has followed the Kulani issue closely since Department of Public Safety officials announced last year that the prison would be closed following 63 years of operation and inmates would be transferred to other facilities throughout the state. The National Guard’s plans for training at the site, on the slopes of Mauna Loa, was not publicly known until the Tribune-Herald wrote about it on Sept. 8, Brady said.

She is hoping that the next administration that follows Gov. Linda Lingle will be enlightened enough to support reopening Kulani or turning it into a wellness center. Otherwise, absent any further action from the land board, the first class of the Youth ChalleNGe Academy will begin in January, said Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony.

“It was an open public hearing, where anybody who wanted to can go look at the minutes and see (the topics),” Anthony said. “We’re following the process exactly as outlined to us in terms of gettting that particular parcel transferred to the Department of Defense, and let the process play itself out.” He declined to comment on the merits of the petition, out of respect for the political process.

“Youth ChalleNGe is a really terrific program,” Anthony added.

In recommending that Lingle approve the request during the Sept. 9 meeting, the land board added a requirement that the Hawaii Army National Guard conduct a hearing on the Big Island to inform the public about its mission and intended activities on the former prison grounds.

Also, the board removed the old boys’ school and part of an internal road from the area slated for the Youth ChalleNGe Academy.

Instead, those sites are to be added to the Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve, according to the land board’s unanimous recommendation of a related request.

The state attorney general’s office is likely reviewing the requests for a contested case hearing, and in the coming months the BLNR will take a vote on whether to grant the petitioners standing to bring a complaint.

A contested case hearing is like a trial in which the parties submit evidence and conduct cross-examinations of witnesses in an attempt to justify their respective positions to a hearings officer, who then makes a recommendation to the board.

If, on the other hand, the land board denies standing, Brady and the others may contest that decision in court.

The Community Alliance on Prisons contends that the land board violated state law because it “does not have the power to cancel these executive orders and reset aside. (The law) requires that the governor cancel the executive orders to reset aside these lands for another purpose.” Further, “the BLNR in this instance made a decision absent sufficent information about how the lands could be managed by a program of 16 (to) 19-year-old youth. The board only listened to the National Guard’s praise of the program. … The board has clearly breached their responsibilities as trustee for the lands.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources declined to comment on the merits of the petition.

E-mail Peter Sur at psur@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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