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Community support propels PONC purchases

  • A surfer catches a wave at Banyans on April 19, 2019. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

An hour and a half of impassioned testimony extolling the importance of saving West Hawaii shoreline and preserving Hawaiian culture ended Tuesday with the County Council Finance Committee unanimously forwarding four prospective land purchases to the council for a final vote.

Resolutions 80 through 83 authorize the county administration to begin negotiations on the parcels, which include the 15,372-square-foot popular surf spot known as Banyans; 8.8 acres mauka of Magic Sands of La‘aloa; the 29.8-acre parcel Pahoehoe of La‘aloa, also mauka of Magic Sands; and a condo development known as Coffee Cottages on Mamalahoa Highway in Holualoa. Together, the properties have a market value of $4.8 million.

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Testifiers included lineal descendants of the families who settled on these shores generations ago. One of those was Caleb Kekoa Nazara, president of the Kona Hawaiian Civic Club.

“The (civic club) acknowledges many kanaka maoli feel any purchase of property is moot and invalid as a result of the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1893 acknowledged by the United States in the 1993 Apology Resolution,” Nazara said in written testimony read by Chuck Flaherty. “The Kona (civic club) sees the acquisition of these properties as the best opportunity to protect the rights of native tenants, as well as the aina of this wahi pana. It would help preserve the potential for a restoration of the critically important traditional and customary practices associated with this sacred center for the healing arts.”

Council members were in strong support.

“To have a diverse group of community members come out to support of these lands is very moving to me,” said North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba.

All of the properties are on the priority list of the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission, known as PONC. But they’re not at the top of the annual list this year, which spurred questions from other council members about the process.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards said he’s also trying to get resolutions to the council authorizing negotiations for the Mahukona parcels that are No. 1 on the PONC list this year.

“We’re talking about value,” Richards said. “Sometimes measured in dollars but also cultural value and historic value.”

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villages, sponsor of the four resolutions, emphasized that the purchases, which still must wend their way through the process, won’t deplete the county’s open space fund, which currently sits at $18.4 million. About $6.6 million is added to the fund annually through a sweep of 2% of property tax revenues.

Since 2006, the county has purchased 16 properties from the PONC fund, said county Property Manager Hamana Ventura.

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“Some parcels took years to happen. We were seeking leveraged funds for these parcels,” Ventura said. “Some parcels fall off.”

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

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