County Purchases 550 Acres Of Ka‘u Shoreline

The County of Hawai‘i announced today that it purchased more than 550 acres of undeveloped shoreline at Kawa, located in the Ka‘u District near the old plantation town of Pahala. A public-private partnership consisting of the County, the State Legacy Land Conservation Program under the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Land Acquisition Program, The Trust for Public Land, and many community members and stakeholders, made the $3.9 million purchase possible.

For many years, the Hawai‘i County Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Commission (PONC) consistently ranked the Kawa shoreline project its top priority for its outstanding natural and cultural resources. The newly acquired land connects a four-mile corridor of publicly owned coastal land along the Ka‘u coastline, protects nesting areas for the critically endangered Hawaiian Hawksbill turtle, and includes the 2-acre Ka‘alaiki intertidal coastal fishpond, estuary, and spring system (the second largest on the island) where the Hawaiian orange-black damselfly (a candidate endangered species) can be found. The property also includes numerous Hawaiian cultural sites, such as Ke‘eku Heiau (luakini), one of the largest intact heiau in the region. The three-parcel, 550-acre property is located next to the popular surfing beach fronting Kawa Bay, which the County acquired in 2008.

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said the cooperation of The Trust for Public Land, the state Legacy Land Conservation Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the people of Ka‘u made this purchase possible. “Our ability to work with federal, state, and private partners has allowed us to leverage county funds, and stretch our tax dollars further to preserve our important lands for future generations.” Mayor Kenoi said county officials have been meeting with community and cultural stakeholders for many weeks, listening to their concerns and recommendations. Mayor Kenoi said the wishes of the entire Ka‘u community will drive the county’s actions at Kawa.

The Hawai‘i County purchased the 550-acre property from the Edmund C. Olson Trust for several million dollars less than the County’s appraisal of the property. Mr. Olson was recently recognized in the Pacific Business News and the Hawaii Tribune Herald for his charitable contributions to land conservation in Hawai‘i, and voluntary dedication of over 2,100 acres of land on O‘ahu and in Ka‘u to agricultural and conservation uses in the future. Mr. Olson is a partner in Hilo-based O.K. Farms LLC, which produces coffee, macadamia nuts, honey, tropical fruits, avocados, citrus and hearts of palm. He also has many other agricultural interests in the Ka‘u area. Mr. Olson stated: “I have loved Hawai‘i since I first came here for business in the 1960s. I am happy that this shoreline land will remain in public hands in the future. Hawai‘i has been good to me, and I am pleased to give back to the community.”

The $3.9 million discounted purchase price consisted of $1,893,000 from the Hawai‘i County Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund, $1.5 million from the State Legacy Land Conservation Program, and $507,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Land Acquisition Program. The voters of Hawai‘i County established the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation fund in 2006 by a ballot initiative, setting aside 2 percent of real property taxes for natural land conservation. The County Council recently passed a measure to make the fund a part of the County’s Charter, which will be subject to a County vote.

The State of Hawai‘i Legislature established the Legacy Land Conservation Program (LLCP) in 2005 to provide funding to public agencies and community organizations for land conservation. The LLCP receives 10 percent of the State’s real estate conveyance tax (a tax paid by sellers when property is sold). The State Department of Land and Natural Resources administers the LLCP. From 2006 to 2011, the Legacy Land Conservation Program has issued $21.5 million in awards, and attracted $42.9 million in matching federal, county and private funds towards the protection of more than 7,920 acres of cultural, natural, agricultural, and recreational resource lands. On average, funded projects leverage 50 percent matching funds from federal, county, or other private sources. William Aila, Jr., Chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, stated that: “This project is a good example of how federal, state, and county funds can come together to protect a valued community resource.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Land Acquisition Program, authorized through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund under Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, provides funding for the purchases from willing landowners of habitat for threatened and endangered species. “These grants have proven time and again to be an integral tool in working with states and localities to protect habitat for the recovery of threatened and endangered species. The U.S. House of Representative’s elimination of funding for this grant program in their FY12 Interior appropriations bill would significantly impact the State’s ability to support ESA recovery projects. By supporting states and territories, the federal funds continue the Endangered Species Act’s long legacy of protecting healthy, thriving ecosystems for generations to come,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Land Acquisition Program has helped with the acquisition of numerous parcels in Hawai‘i, including Moanalua Valley and the Honouliuli Forest Reserve on O‘ahu, Waihe‘e coastal wetland and dunes on Maui, and the Kuka‘iau (Carlsmith) property on Hawai‘i Island. “Through these funds, we can contribute to the conservation of this shoreline, which serves as a nesting area for the critically endangered Hawaiian Hawksbill Turtle and other unique Hawaiian species. We are pleased to be playing a role in the permanent protection of this important habitat area,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, Field Supervisor of the Pacific Islands U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office.

“A struggling economy should never be the reason for abdicating our responsibility to preserve unique cultural and environmental treasures. An impressive list of public and private partners stepped forward in the best interest of the Ka‘u community today and into the future. I am very proud that the federal government is one of the partners. One word sums up both the partnership and the preservation—priceless,” said U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye.

The Trust for Public Land, a private national nonprofit organization, assisted the County in drafting funding applications for the state and federal funds totaling over $2 million, or 53 percent of the acquisition funding. The Trust for Public Land has conserved more than 39,672 acres of land in Hawai‘i. On Hawai‘i Island, The Trust for Public Land helped to conserve Pao‘o (now owned by the County) and Lapakahi (Lamalaloa and Kaipuha‘a, expansion of the Lapakahi State Historical Park) along the Kohala coast, the Honu‘apo Fishpond and Estuary (owned by the County) in Ka‘u, the Wao Kele O Puna Forest Reserve (owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs), the Ki‘ilae shoreline as part of an expansion of the Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, and the Kalapana expansion of the Volcanoes National Park.

The Trust for Public Land’s mission in Hawai‘i is focused on protecting coastal/shoreline lands, working lands that contribute to Hawai‘i’s food, energy, and water self-sufficiency, and heritage lands that perpetuate Hawaiian culture. Lea Hong, the Hawaiian Islands Program Director of The Trust for Public Land, stated that: “Kawa, and other important coastal areas, are where local families gather and enjoy Hawai‘i’s shorelines. The Trust for Public Land plays an important role bringing together multiple funding sources, agencies, and stakeholders to make conservation victories like this possible. These are the places that fill the childhood memories of Hawai‘i’s keiki and leave a legacy for the future.”