Maui County Purchases 64 Acres of Coastal Wetlands

The County of Maui today announced that it purchased more than 64-acres of undeveloped shoreline at Paukūkalo, Wailuku. The $996,000 purchase was made possible through a public-private partnership between the County of Maui, The Trust for Public Land, Kauahea, Inc., the Neighborhood Place of Wailuku, and many community partners and individuals.

The property fronts Ka’ehu Bay, and includes over 4,500 feet of shoreline. It is one of the last undeveloped shoreline parcels of a once famous and vast network of wetlands and fishponds, located between the mouths of Waiehu and ‘Īao Streams. The property is the home of numerous Hawaiian cultural sites, including habitation structures, agricultural terraces, former fishponds, shrines, and burials. The coastal wetlands are potential future habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds such as the ae’o (Hawaiian stilt), ‘alae ke’oke’o (Hawaiian coot), and koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck). The property, located adjacent to the Paukūkalo Hawaiian Homestead and near the Waiehu Kou Hawaiian Homesteads, is also a popular coastal area for surfing, fishing, and recreational activities.

“We have been fortunate to work with the Paukūkalo and Waiehu communities, The Trust for Public Land and the Maui County Council to purchase this invaluable coastal land and save it from proposed development,” said Mayor Alan M. Arakawa. “Our local communities are especially dependent on our shorelines for subsistence, recreation and well-being so it is important that the coastal wetlands at Ka’ehu Bay will now remain a priceless cultural and natural resource on Maui for generations to come.”

“I am honored to have been part of the historic acquisition of this rare coastal property fronting Ka’ehu Bay which had once been a vibrant part of Maui’s Native Hawaiian community,” stated Councilmember Michael P. Victorino. “It was very gratifying to have been a government partner with a grassroots movement to prevent this parcel from development, and instead, returning it to nurturing cultural caretakers. I am grateful for the tremendous support from both my colleagues on the Maui County Council, as well as the many citizens who worked in concert to ensure that a gem like Ka’ehu Bay be preserved, protected and kept pristine forever.”

Kauahea Inc., led by Kumu Hōkūlani Holt, supported recent efforts to acquire the land, and is organizing community grass roots efforts to manage and restore the natural and cultural resources on the property, working with surrounding community stakeholder groups and individuals. “We hope that the community and individuals who love the land will work together with us to heal and restore the resources on the land for future generations,” stated Kumu Holt.

The Neighborhood Place of Wailuku (NPW) was one of the very first advocates for preservation of these shoreline lands. NPW offers cultural education and land stewardship programs to Maui youth and their families on 8 acres of the property as part of its Cultural Strengthening Program. The goal of the Cultural Strengthening Program was to instill hope in families through culturally based, hands-on activities, that strengthen families’ ability to ola (live), honor their culture and adapt to the demands of modern society. NPW has restored two of the springs on the property, removed invasive species, began a native plant greenhouse, replanted kalo (taro) and provided landscape maintenance through its programs.

Venus Rosete-Medeiros, the founder of NPW, former Executive Director and now a current board member, stated that: “NPW is ecstatic that the constant threat of development of the land has been removed. NPW hopes to continue its family strengthening programs on the land in cooperation with the County, Kauahea, Inc., and the broader community. The land is a resource that helps restore and heal the families that are able to use the land. We hope the land will continue as a healing resource for our program participants and the broader community. I am pleased that our County has finally recognized Ka’ehu as a cultural and historical treasure for our community, especially for our children and generations to come.”

Duke Sevilla, one of the founders of Hui O Nā Wai ‘Ehā and a long-time Paukūkalo community member, recalled: “My Dad, A.B. Sevilla, gave me this idea of restoring Ka’ehu to taro patches and fish ponds 40 years ago. I am glad that it is finally coming to a reality. I hope that the citizens of Maui County will help in the restoration and see that this is a part of all of our legacy.”

The Trust for Public Land, a private national nonprofit land conservation organization, assisted the County of Maui with the acquisition. In 2011, the Maui County Council had preliminarily authorized up to $1.7 million purchase price for the land. However, the land was placed into formal foreclosure proceedings. The Trust for Public Land advised the County to delay final proceedings on the $1.7 million of purchase authority in order to work with Maui County staff on a strategy to bid on the property in the foreclosure for a reduced price.

The Trust for Public Land bid in the foreclosure proceedings and made a non-refundable deposit of $160,000 of its own money in January 2012 to secure the bid. The Trust for Public Land also tapped its own lines of credit (incurring interest costs) to place the remainder of the foreclosure bid price in cash in escrow on April 10, 2012 to meet the foreclosure court’s deadlines. The Trust for Public Land paid for an appraisal, a preliminary environmental study, the County’s escrow and other fees, the County’s title insurance, and attorneys’ fees and costs related to the foreclosure. By working with The Trust for Public Land to bid in the foreclosure, the County saved over $700,000 (the County was prepared to pay $1.7 million for land in 2011; the appraisal estimated the land’s value at $2 million; the County’s own real property tax records show an assessed value of $1,387,000).

Michael Spalding, Maui resident and a member of The Trust for Public Land’s Hawaiian Islands Program Advisory Council said: “This was an amazing team effort between the Mayor’s office, County staff, the County Council, the local community and the Trust for Public Land. As a realtor and someone who loves the ocean, I have been aware of the threat of development of this land for some time, and am very happy it has been saved for the community and that it will be there for future generations of surfers, fishermen, and local families. The reduced price is an excellent price for 64 acres of beachfront land.”

Paukūkalo marks The Trust for Public Land’s 26th completed project in Hawai’i, where it has conserved more than 40,314 acres of land throughout the islands. On Maui, The Trust for Public Land helped to expand the Haleakalā National Park at Ka’apahu, and assisted the County in conserving Mū’olea Point in Hāna.

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. The Trust for Public Land’s work on this project and other native and heritage lands project is supported by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.