County nearing purchase of Waikapuna

  • Waikapuna map. (courtesy County of Hawaii)

The county is poised to acquire a large Ka‘u tract that one official calls the “poster child” of lands purchased for preservation.

The County Council is scheduled Wednesday to authorize administration to negotiate purchase of or conservation easements on a 2,013 acre tract makai of Naalehu that includes the historic fishing village of Waikapuna. The action, in Resolution 650, will end a developer’s plans to create 22 lots on the property.

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The oceanfront parcel is to be acquired through a partnership between the county, the nonprofit Trust for Public Land and Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail with $2 million coming from the state Legacy Lands Conservation Program. It was last purchased in 2006 for $4.3 million and currently has a market value of $1.8 million, according to the county Real Property Tax Division.

Archaeological inventories and appraisals would be conducted before the property changes hands. The price tag is still unknown, but the county cannot by law pay more than the appraised value. But Laura Kaakua, TPL native lands project manager, said she expects the property to close before the year is out.

It’s owned by Ka‘u Mahi LLC, a Denver, Colorado, group and is managed by Resource Land Fund V limited partnership. There are 22 lots of record on the mauka portion of the property that hold some entitlements, but the property has not gone through the formal subdivision process.

The property is the No. 1 purchase priority this year for the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission because of numerous archaeological and cultural features as well as pristine lands sheltering many endangered and rare species.

It has 2.3 miles of coastline that includes the ancient Alaloa footpath that once circled the island. The property is currently used by local fishers, Native Hawaiian descendants and gatherers of natural and marine resources for subsistence, recreational and cultural purposes, the purchase resolution states.

And, it was the childhood summer home of esteemed Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui, whose book, “The Polynesian Family System in Ka‘u,” describes features still seen on the property today and forms the basis for the 20th century Hawaiian cultural renaissance.

Money for PONC purchases comes from 2 percent of property taxes collected annually.

Dozens of people supported the purchase last week in testimony before the council Finance Committee. The council, sitting as the committee, gave it unanimous approval.

“This place and this transaction leaves me speechless,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David. “This is like a poster child of a purchase. … It is pristine, it is untouched and we have an opportunity to preserve this. … Preserving Waikapuna is a unique opportunity to protect a special jewel of Ka‘u which keeps Hawaii, Hawaii, for the benefit of everyone.”

Under the agreement, the land would be preserved while continuing current leasing of portions of the property for cattle grazing and three communications towers. The leasing revenue would be used for maintenance of the property, so maintenance wouldn’t be dependent on public funding.

While almost all who’ve weighed in on the purchase have been in favor of it, two Naalehu residents say they have concerns.

Part of the mauka property is being considered for a planned sewer plant near Naalehu, and resident Sandra Demoruelle worried that not allowing the sewer plant there could mean it could be built close to Naalehu Elementary School, another area on the county list.

Jerry Warren worries that access to the property could be restricted after the county takes over, similar to what happened at nearby Kawa Bay, where a gate was installed after the county purchased it.

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“It will kind of be like being given a tee time at Mauna Lani golf course,” Warren said.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.