Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What the 2014 Leg Session Means for the KIRC


In 1993, 11% of the U.S. Navy’s $400M clean-up budget was allocated to the newly established Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission (the KIRC) by the Hawai`i State Legislature. This 1-time allowance became the Kaho`olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund, earmarked to carry out long-term environmental restoration, archaeological and educational activities on the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve while held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian sovereign entity; activities designed to carry out the terms and conditions of the MOU between the State and the Navy regarding the island’s return.

Military exercises at Hanakanai'a, 1993. Courtesy Franco Salmoiraghi
This $44M federal fund was appropriated by congress and transferred to the Trust Fund, with the last appropriation made in 2004.  Since that time the KIRC has operated from the balance of the Trust Fund. During the development of the KIRC’s second strategic plan (2008), it was identified that this fund would be exhausted by FY2011/12. In response, the KIRC immediately re-engineered management, restoration and staffing, enabling operations to extend an additional 5 years.  While this streamlined approach maintained current operations, this left zero funding for any future improvements or critical unforeseen events.

Volunteers at Hakioawa. Courtesy Franco Salmoiraghi.
For the past five years, the KIRC has worked diligently to establish a permanent funding source to allow for the continued restoration of the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve.  Past legislation proposed establishing a Molokini use fee and we have significantly expanded grants and donor programs, but these charitable contributions are severely limited to funding direct project costs rather than for critical infrastructure improvements that the KIRC maintains in order to enable access to Kaho`olawe. It has become clear that operations and maintenance of the Naval infrastructure and the protection of the State’s interest in Kaho`olawe can only be sufficiently funded by State-sponsored funding sources.

What happened this year?

Over the course of the previous 3 years, the KIRC has identified the Conveyance Tax as its most viable funding source.  Current beneficiaries include programs with similar objectives and outcomes as the KIRC, and past legislation identified Conveyance Tax revenue to be used to promote open space and environmental restoration. The KIRC saw much support this legislative session, with bills reaching the very last day of session.  In the end, we passed both the House and Senate Hawaiian Affairs and Water & Land Committees, but did not receive the funding release from the House Finance and Senate Ways & Means to authorize the funds.

What does this mean?

We have sufficient funds to meet our obligations both fiscally (grants obligations) and programmatically for FY2015 (July 2014 to June 2015).  At the end of FY2015, we will not have enough in the Trust Fund to afford another year of operations.  Based upon this, we will not be able to keep on-island operations going and will have to shut down our on-island volunteer program and Honokanaia Base Camp.  The failure of these bills puts all developments and future planning on hold until we regroup and strategize for the 2015 legislative session.

Volunteers learn how to plant on the hard-pan with KIRC staff. Courtesy Cory Yap.
What are we going to do?

We plan to keep the Reserve open for FY2015 and to continue the restoration projects for which we are currently receiving funding.  We are planning to re-introduce the same Conveyance Tax bill next session with the message that it’s “do or die” for us. We are also approaching the DLNR administration about general funding in the state budget and possibly introducing a general fund appropriation request.  At the same time, we have to develop contingency plans on how to transfer portions of KIRC’s responsibilities to other state agencies, or, how to completely shut down Reserve operations, prohibiting public access for all restoration, archaeological, educational and cultural activities. 

The island of Kaho‘olawe still remains a responsibility and obligation of the state. If the KIRC does not have sufficient funding to fulfill those obligations, another state agency may have to be assigned those obligations.

Courtesy Gadling.

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