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MOLOKAI: Long-awaited farmland on horizon for lessees [Maui News]

High costs, lack of infrastructure have kept 58 lessees from moving onto lots

A preliminary site plan shows the layout and size of the 58 lots proposed for the Nā‘iwa Agricultural Subdivision on Moloka‘i. The lessees were chosen by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands more than 30 years ago and have been waiting to get onto the land ever since. R.M. TOWILL CORPORATION graphics

More than 30 years ago, 58 native Hawaiian beneficiaries were selected by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for leases on Moloka‘i and have been waiting to occupy their agricultural lots ever since.

Families have not been able to build in the long-awaited Nā‘iwa Agricultural Subdivision due to lack of infrastructure and affordable construction costs since lots were awarded in 1986. Now with funding available, the DHHL is proposing to construct the much-needed improvements for the subdivision project in the Ho’olehua area.

“It’s been a complete volunteer effort to bring the attention, support and just kind of figuring out what the needs are for the community that’s currently residing there while we await for the department to complete the infrastructure,” said Liliana Napoleon, beneficiary and president of the Nā‘iwa Agricultural Subdivision Alliance. “What I’m articulating is really the vision of the original lessees before they were able to see this come to fruition and help our lessees to meet their obligations to the department.”

The alliance is a native Hawaiian beneficiary-led board and community advisory committee of up to 10 volunteers that connect Nā‘iwa lessee families to services and resources, such as educational workshops and agricultural training.

Like many second-generation homesteaders, Napoleon became a beneficiary after her grandmother transferred an original lease to her before her passing in the early 2000s. This is when Napoleon’s efforts with the project and the gradual creation of the alliance started.

The purpose of the alliance is to help lessees fulfill the requirements of the DHHL lease, including occupying the homestead full time and farming two-thirds of the agricultural land, she said Wednesday morning via phone. Food sustainability will also help Moloka‘i homesteaders survive on an island where costs of living are “astronomical,” she added.

The proposed $35.6-million project includes improvements on about 341.2 acres of undeveloped and partially developed agricultural land for the 58 lots, and would formally subdivide up to 66 agricultural lots for use by DHHL lessees and remaining beneficiaries, according to the draft environmental assessment for the project published May 23.

The project involves the construction of the agricultural subdivision infrastructure improvements, which consists of access roadways, electrical power, irrigation and potable water, the report said. The project will also support the construction of homes and ancillary infrastructure.

The proposed project area is bounded by Maunaloa Highway to the west, Nā‘iwa Avenue to the north and Pala’au Avenue to the east. The Moloka‘i Airport is northwest of the site, and various community facilities and businesses are in the surrounding area, including Kumu Farms to the south and Hikiola Cooperative to the north.

A dual water system is planned for use by the new subdivision tenants consisting of potable water and nonpotable irrigation water systems, with potable water serviced by the Ho’olehua Water System and nonpotable water through the Moloka‘i Irrigation System.

The total project costs, including planning, design and construction, are estimated at around $35.6 million. The timeline of on- and off-site construction is tentatively scheduled with the availability of funds. The completion of the project is estimated at one to two years.

“The Nā‘iwa Agricultural Subdivision seeks to provide native Hawaiians with an opportunity to return to the land and promote self-sufficiency through farming opportunities,” the report said.

The state has struggled for years to get a long list of Hawaiian lessees onto homestead land. As of June 2021, there were around 2,139 native Hawaiian beneficiaries on the DHHL Moloka‘i waitlist, according to the environmental assessment.

Earlier this year, the alliance was able to work with Hawai’i Community Lending in receiving grant awards totaling $1.5 million to launch the three-year Native Hawaiian Owner-Builder Project, which will help the 58 Naiwa lessee families and five Native Hawaiian builders to increase their capacity to build and own homes on Hawaiian home lands and farm two-thirds of their lot.

The nonprofit received a $398,000 grant through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs that will match $1.1 million in funding from the Administration for Native Americans, according to a news release.

“This project is a result of the Nā‘iwa Agricultural Subdivision and Na’iwa lessees organizing themselves and advocating for their collective needs,” Jeff Gilbreath, executive director of Hawai’i Community Lending, told The Maui News on Tuesday. “HCL’s role is to follow the lead of the lessees, provide support and expertise where we can, and coordinate partnerships to ensure this project gets completed once and for all so the lessees can get onto the land after 38 years since being awarded their lease.”

The first meeting with the Nā‘iwa lessees was held in April to take them through the next steps. The progress has been exciting, but when it’s time to shovel the ground and work through the challenges and barriers of residing on Moloka‘i, “it’s going to be a long haul,” Napoleon noted.

“It’s really going to be the Nā‘iwa lessees sticking together to ensure that we meet our obligations in the department, so that the next generation can rest assured that they can reapply if they need a renewal because a lease is only good for 99 years,” she said. “Now keep in mind that the original was given back in 1986, so we basically lost 33 years already.”

Partnership meetings with DHHL, building suppliers, contractors, housing counselors and mortgage lenders are also being held regularly to move the project forward, Gilbreath said.

“They have been unable to build due to lack of infrastructure and affordable construction financing,” he said Tuesday. “Now with DHHL putting in the necessary infrastructure and our organization providing the affordable financing, the lessees are positioned to get onto the land.”

See full article at Maui News here.

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