Lawmakers take ‘big step’ in safeguarding landmark

Honolua’s Lipoa Point is one of few areas left in West Maui that has resisted commercial development, and now that state lawmakers have alloted $20 million toward its preservation, it is likely to stay that way.

The funds were appropriated as part of a $23.7 billion biennium budget proposal that cleared the state legislative conference committee Tuesday and is headed for a final vote by both houses of the Legislature sometime next week, officials said.

The funds would allow the state to acquire about 280 acres of coastal lands surrounding and north of Honolua Bay.

During last year’s General Plan discussions, groups sought to have the area designated for preservation from its current agricultural zoning. Landowner Maui Land & Pineapple Co. resisted, saying the change would devalue the land and jeopardize pension agreements for its workers.

“A crisis turned into an opportunity for the community to acquire this asset as well as assist the pensioners and create an area that can be used to help preserve our wildlife and environment,” said West Maui state Rep. Angus McKelvey, who spearheaded efforts in the Legislature to preserve the coastal land in perpetuity.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he said.

When asked if there was any chance that Lipoa Point would be developed in the coming years, even after the state Department of Land and Natural Resources acquires the land, McKelvey said no.

“No way. If the money is released and DLNR can clear negotiations with ML&P, the bay is safe in perpetuity with the people of Hawaii, forever. . . . The trust is now in the hands of the public.”

State Sen. Roz Baker, who represents South and West Maui, commended lawmakers for “a very big step” in preserving an iconic landmark in Hawaii.

“What this says is that the Legislature is very concerned about preserving those special places that are important to our individual communities,” said Baker. “The thought of a million-dollar house built on that point and not allowing anyone else to enjoy that special place would be a tragedy.”

Though the funds have been approved by the state legislative conference committee, a separate measure, House Bill 1424, which mandates that the money received by ML&P must go toward pension funds and absolves the state from any remaining liability, is still making its way through the Legislature. The bill passed through a conference committee Thursday and will be voted on by both chambers Tuesday.

Lawmakers are confident that the measure will pass.

“It’s a done deal that this is going to happen, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow or the next day,” said Baker. “The funds don’t become available until July, and there’s a process that follows.”

After the funds are released, DLNR will most likely buy the land from ML&P at a price that has not yet been determined. The state will then partner with Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, a Wailuku-based nonprofit organization, to manage and preserve Lipoa Point, Baker said.

“The details still have to be worked out – the particulars of the deal with the landowner, the state . . . and all the other partners,” said Ted Clement, executive director of the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. “But there is consensus that this property should be protected in perpetuity for the benefit of the public and should continue to be public access.”

Landowner ML&P had no comment, according to President and Chief Operating Officer Ryan Churchill. However, in written testimony on HB 1424 he said that the company was “supportive” of the measure. ML&P has been “working for many years with the community, including Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, Save Honolua Coalition and various government agencies in their efforts to acquire the coastal lands surrounding and north of Honolua Bay,” said Churchill.

DLNR also supports the measure, according to department Deputy Director Esther Kia’aina.

“Anything we do will be in concert with concerns and desires of the community,” said Kia’aina. “We don’t have the details set on exactly what will happen, but we just know that we want the area preserved for generations to come.”

“We are incredibly grateful,” said Tamara Paltin, president of the Save Honolua Coalition.

Last year, Mayor Alan Arakawa negotiated a plan for the county to purchase Lipoa Point that would have required the community – to be led by the Save Honolua Coalition – to raise $5 million.

“We didn’t just raise $5 million, we raised $20 million,” said Paltin, taking some credit for the legislative appropriation. Because the mayor did not mandate the money having to come from private entities, she said that the group focused on obtaining public funds through lobbying the state Legislature.

“It’s just the beginning, it’s a great beginning, but now we really need to come together as a community to work with the state, the kupuna, the aha moku to make sure this area gets taken care of,” she said.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.