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Moloka`i Ranch Water Permit Revoked

Victory for the public trust doctrine and native Hawaiian rights.

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Victory

In 1996, the state of Hawai'i Commission on Water Resource Management granted Wai`ola O Moloka`i, a subsidiary of Moloka`i Ranch, permits to construct and operate a well to fuel massive development on Moloka`i, a rural, predominantly native Hawaiian island. This permit was opposed by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and local residents represented by Earthjustice based on concerns that the well, by reducing the flow of groundwater to Moloka`i's south shore, would reduce availability of limu that many residents rely on for subsistence, interfere with fishponds, and have a dramatic and unwanted cultural and social impact on the rural island.

On January 29, 2004, the Hawai'i Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the permits were wrongly granted to Moloka`i Ranch and ordered the commission to revisit the matter. The court held that the commission had failed to insure that Hawaiians' rights to water would be protected, and had wrongly tried to put the burden on the Moloka`i residents to prove that the well would interfere with their traditional and customary gathering rights as native Hawaiians; the court observed that, instead, Moloka`i Ranch was "obligated to demonstrate affirmatively that the proposed well would not affect native Hawaiians' rights." This is another significant decision upholding the public trust doctrine and the rights of native Hawaiians to water and to practice traditional gathering.

Program Area:  Healthy Communities
Office:  Mid-Pacific
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