Fellow Story

Scheuer appointed to East Maui Water Board amid fiercely political process

Editor’s note: The following story originally appeared in Honolulu Civil Beat, by Marina Starleaf Riker, on July 18, 2023. Read the full story here

The Maui County Council has confirmed Jonathan Likeke Scheuer to represent the Hawaiian Homes Commission on the board steering the new East Maui Community Water Authority, marking the council’s final action in a heated monthslong process to get it up and running.

In an 8-0 vote, council members in attendance during Tuesday’s meeting unanimously voted to confirm Scheuer, a leading Hawaii water law expert and longtime consultant for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, to fill one of 11 seats on the new water board. Council member Gabe Johnson of Lanai was excused from the meeting. 

“I’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Scheuer for over 10 years and have found him to have a very staunch desire to protect the equal and fair distribution of this public trust,” Blossom Feiteira, a lifelong Maui resident and a beneficiary currently on the Hawaiian homelands waitlist, told council members. 

Tuesday’s vote was the final step in a fiercely political vetting process that started in early May to choose the first members to steer the East Maui regional board, which was created by voters last year to give rural communities more oversight of the water flowing from their streams. The mayor was tasked with choosing four of the board members, and the council was charged with appointing seven, one of whom must be recommended by DHHL to serve as a representative for the Hawaiian Homes Commission

At one point, prominent Maui developer Everett Dowling tried to influence the process by emailing DHHL Director Kali Watson to tell him not to choose Scheuer for the spot. Dowling instead recommended candidates working in the construction industry. In the days that followed, Watson rescinded Scheuer’s nomination but shifted gears again after widespread pushback from beneficiaries

The DHHL director then paved the way for the Hawaiian Homes commissioners to decide. They unanimously tapped Scheuer for the role because of his “level of expertise that few others have.

“It was kind of wonky in the beginning, and it kind of felt even wonkier here when Dr. Scheuer was appointed and then he was unappointed,” council member Tasha Kama told her colleagues during Tuesday’s meeting. “Then we had the beneficiary community rise up and step up on his behalf.”

Throughout the process, Scheuer, who is from Oahu, received widespread support from Maui community members, who showed up at a several meetings to tell their elected officials about his long track record serving as an advocate for Native Hawaiian water rights and educational leader for communities grappling with water conflicts. Besides serving as DHHL’s key consultant, Scheuer works as a lecturer at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law and has co-authored the book, “Water and Power in West Maui.” 

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