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State briefs for March 28

Protesters
rally against solar farm

HONOLULU (AP) — Republican state Sen. Kurt Fevella organized a protest along a highway in Hawaii against a proposed 9-acre solar farm on property owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

About 30 people with signs and Hawaiian flags protested on Thursday alongside Farrington Highway near Nanakuli Valley, where the proposed solar farm is to be built.

The protesters argued that the proposed project was not the best use of the agency’s trust land. A land trust was created by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 to improve the lives of Native Hawaiians, who are defined as having at least 50% Hawaiian ancestry.

Native Hawaiians are eligible to apply for 99-year leases at $1 per year for residential, ranching or farming leases on a land trust of 317 square miles overseen by the agency.

There are about 23,000 Native Hawaiian applicants on the waitlist.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands said the planned 15-megawatt solar farm on up to 88 acres of the 448-acre Nanakuli Ranch is one of the best uses for the land. The department said the site cannot be used for beneficiary homesteads because it is in a flood plain.

The home lands department also said the planned solar farm is expected to provide about $165,000 in rent annually over a 55-year land lease that can help fulfill its homestead mission.

It added that existing homesteaders can benefit from the project if they invest in it through a Hawaiian Electric program that provides investors a net savings through discounted monthly electricity bills.

Some homestead beneficiaries believe agency officials should have consulted with them before concluding that the solar farm would be the best use of the land.

Other homestead beneficiaries questioned why they should help build a project that doesn’t provide direct value for Native Hawaiians. The beneficiaries said discounted electricity for investors and the reduction of the state’s use of fossil fuels were not large enough incentives.

“Why are Hawaiians having to give up more land to support the entire island?” read a beneficiary question from an October videoconference meeting to discuss the proposed project.

Up to 100
people allowed at outdoor
weddings

HONOLULU (AP) — Weddings on Oahu in Hawaii can now be held outside with a maximum of 100 people after an easing of public health orders related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Friday that the easing of restrictions would be effective immediately.

Weddings were previously restricted to 10 people. A limit of 10 people will continue for indoor weddings.

For outdoor weddings, a maximum of 100 people will be allowed, seating will be limited to 10 people per table, everyone will be required to wear masks and each wedding must be supervised by “event planning professionals.” Temperature checks will also be required.

The news was applauded by members of the state’s wedding industry, which was dramatically affected by the pandemic.

“This is a significant and incredibly important step to revitalizing our industry,” Oahu Wedding Association President Joseph Esser said in a statement.

“While our industry has a long road to recovery, we are beyond thankful to Mayor Blangiardi for his swift action to reopen weddings over the past few weeks.”

Dancing will be allowed, as long as dancers wear masks and follow social distancing mandates of two dancers for every 36 square feet, with a maximum of 32 dancers.

Earlier this month, Blangiardi told wedding industry workers who demonstrated at the Honolulu Hale that he would try to persuade the governor and health department to amend capacity restrictions.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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