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State cancels grant for purchase of land swallowed by lava

KAILUA-KONA — The state canceled a grant funding Hawaii County’s purchase of a land parcel that was to serve as a buffer between development and the Waiopae tide pools.

Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case notified Mayor Harry Kim last week about the state’s termination of the grant agreement, which would have provided $1.33 million in matching funds through the Legacy Land Conservation Program.

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The county planned to buy about 300 acres of privately held land touching the coast near Leilani Estates for $2.7 million. But lava flows from the Kilauea volcano eruption have largely inundated the parcel. Lava consumed the tide pools, which were part of the Waiopae State Marine Life Conservation District.

“I am saddened by the loss of this special place on the Puna coast, which was so beloved by the community,” said Theresa Menard, chairwoman of the State Legacy Land Conservation Commission. “But it no longer makes sense to move forward with the purchase given the dramatic changes in the public benefits we hoped to secure.”

The county approved the purchase in 2013. The state and county entered the grant agreement to acquire the land in 2016 following the recommendation by the commission and approval by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

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Mayor Kim and other Big Island officials had expressed interest in backing out of the deal and sought feedback from the state earlier this month.

“The Legacy Land Conservation Program is an important and very popular tool to protect critical lands for their natural and cultural values,” Case said in a statement. “We must continue to be diligent in ensuring best use of this public money to conserve resources for everyone’s benefit.”

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