Maui News

Council Gives Initial Approval to Purchase of Ka’ehu Wetlands

April 11, 2012, 9:46 AM HST
* Updated April 11, 9:48 AM
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A group of community members seeking protection of the Ka'ehu Wetlands in Paukukalo, join in prayer prior to a foreclosure auction held in 2011. The county has since given initial approval to purchase the property from the winning bidder, The Trust for Public Land. Photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

The proposed acquisition of 63.7 acres of coastal wetlands in Paukukalo was approved on first reading in a unanimous vote by the Maui County Council on Tuesday.

The $996,000 price tag garnered initial approval by all members, but also drew some reservations by members who say unresolved issues remain.

“I do support the purchase of properties by the county of lands that will remain in perpetuity for future generations; I do have a problem however, with questions that I think were not addressed during our discussions,” said Council Chair Danny Mateo of Molokai.

Mateo said there were unresolved issues involving the removal of structures on the property, concerns with existing easements, verifying non-profit status of organizations that planned to use the property, and the purchase price.

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“The issue is not acquisition of the lands—that is not the issue,” said Mateo. “It is the process that was sidestepped. That becomes a problem because I would like to see the county purchase this in perpetuity; but there are technical issues that we need to be sure that are addressed because we are using taxpayer money.”

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Council Member Joseph Pontanilla said some of the items were brought forth in a series of three meetings held on the topic prior to voting. “The Kahauea organization had indicated that some of the things that we talked about this morning would be addressed by that particular group.”

“I’m very confident with the organization moving forward and trying to clean up this piece of property so that once it’s done, we have a jewel at the north shore,” said Pontanilla.

Council Member Riki Hokama expressed concerns over how acquisition is made, and the process.  “While I am very supportive of this acquisition, my disappointment is in how it got to this stage,” said Hokama.

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Hokama said, “I express my personal disappointment that the Trust for Public Land puts me in my estimation, in a corner, that I need to accept a number that I still feel is too high, and we could have saved the people of this county over hundreds of thousands of dollars, if we did it how we have planned in previous acquisitions that were successful.”

When the bidding was opened for the property, The Trust for Public Land was able to acquire the parcel for $861,000.  The additional expense in turning the property over the county includes taxes and other costs that have come about since the trust initiated the process of acquisition.

The Trust for Public Land is a national non-profit land trust organization that had previously worked with the county to protect Mu’ole’a Point in East Maui in 2005.

As the last open space between Waiehu and Waihee, Council Member Michael Victorino said, “this has not only cultural, but archaeological significance, which makes this area even more important for our future.”

“This type of purchase is definitely needed, and I whole-heartedly support it.  I look forward for its progress forward in a positive manner,” said Council Member Elle Cochran.

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