Grant Awarded to Purchase Kohala Shoreline Property

From the Mayors Office:

The County of Hawai‘i has been awarded a $945,000 grant from the Legacy Land Conservation Commission (LLCC) that will help purchase one of the most desirable, undeveloped shoreline access areas on the Big Island.

The oceanfront property consists of 10.61 acres within the Pa`o`o Aupua`a in North Kohala and will be purchased by the County with matching funds from the County’s Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation (PONC) fund.

The property was ranked No. 1 on the PONC fund’s priority list for open space land acquisitions in 2007 before falling to No. 2 in 2008. The property also is designated for preservation in the North Kohala Community Development Plan.

The County of Hawai‘i and the private Trust for Public Land were partners in the application for the LLCC grant. It received the LLCC’s top ranking in the competitive selection process among applications from throughout the state.

“The No. 1 ranking is a testament to the tremendous cultural and natural resource value of the Kohala Coastline,” said Leah Hong, Hawai‘i Islands Program Director for the Trust for Public Land.

The County is being “out front and pro-active” in the effort to acquire high-quality shoreline access lands, said County of Hawai‘i Mayor Billy Kenoi. “We are preserving our most highly valued shoreline properties that are rich with culture, history, and recreational opportunities for our Big Island families.

“This beautiful parcel will create the second largest oceanfront park in the County,” Mayor Kenoi said.

The owner, Jonathan Cohen, initially asked $2.5 million for the property but agreed to sell it for the appraised value of $1.89 million. “We’re stretching our dollars as much as possible to get maximum value,” said Mayor Kenoi.

The county is prohibited from paying more than the appraised value for land. The county’s PONC fund currently has just under $11 million.

Current uses of the undeveloped property include fishing, swimming, snorkeling, diving, surfing and wildlife watching. It has 2,032 feet of coastline, rocky shoreline and tide pools in addition to well-preserved portions of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail administered by the National Park Service. The property also provides access to a local surfing spot know as “Secrets” via a four-wheel-drive jeep trail.

At least 27 archaeological sites and cultural sites have been identified on the property, located just south of Lapakahi State Historical Park, including habitation structures, burials, a shrine and canoe sheds.

“It’s great news,” said Kalani Flores, a member of the County’s open space commission that ranks parcels proposed for acquisition. Flores said he’s had his eye on this property for nearly 20 years. The grant “validates all the efforts of the Kohala community,” he said, “and for the commission to consider it such a high priority also shows that others share the vision.”

Stephanie Naihe Laxton, whose Native Hawaiian family is rooted in Kohala, has worked to preserve the land for nearly 30 years. “It’s a big blessing to the community, and in turn the County gets blessed,” she said. “It falls on your children, and on your children’s children. It’s old Hawaiian style.”

Councilman Kelly Greenwell (District 8, North Kona) said the parcel “fits in very well with our project for open space preservation. If we can afford it, I’m delighted.”

Gail Byrne, who facilitated communications between agencies and the land owner, credited the “incredible teamwork” of individual and organizations for the successful grant application. With its beauty and rich Hawaiian history, the property is “a jewel for the world,” she said. “We are so grateful to the County and Mayor Kenoi.”

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources must approve the LLCC’s recommendation before Governor Linda Lingle can release the funds. Hong cautioned that the state Legislature could raid the Legacy Land Conservation Fund (the fund receives 10 percent of the real estate conveyance tax) in the 2010 session, jeopardizing the proposed Pa`o`o transaction.

“The people of the Island of Hawai‘i need to let the Legislature know that they want this fund to remain as an investment in our future,” Hong said. “Also, the Governor could refuse to release the funds, so the public needs to let the Governor know they want the money released.”

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