County Council approves Kohala coast purchases

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HILO — A large swath of North Kohala coastline with environmental and cultural significance is on its way toward preservation.

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HILO — A large swath of North Kohala coastline with environmental and cultural significance is on its way toward preservation.

The Hawaii County Council unanimously gave the go-ahead Wednesday for the Finance Department to begin negotiations to purchase the Hapuu to Kapanaia cultural corridor, a 167-acre corridor that includes two major heiau from Kamehameha I’s time.

It also approved negotiations for the purchase of Halelua, a 50-acre parcel that includes much of the lower Halawa Gulch. Public access to the property is a high priority of the North Kohala Community Development Plan.

The two properties are the top priorities of the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission, and money from that source will be used for the purchases.

“This has been a nearly 40-year process,” said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille. “This was the home, the heart of where Kamehameha I lived.”

North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff praised Toni Withington, a Kohala resident Eoff said has worked tirelessly to preserve the coastline.

“The North Kohala coastline is one of those places that deserves this attention,” Eoff said.

It’s not known how much the property will cost until negotiations are complete. By law, the county can’t pay more than the value determined by an independent appraiser. Sometimes landowners donate all or part of their property to the county.

The PONC program was created in 2006, after a charter amendment passed directing a minimum of 2 percent of property tax revenues be set aside in the account to purchase public lands. The commission annually prioritizes a list based on public input and other factors. It presents the list to the mayor, and then the County Council works off that list.

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The public has submitted more than 168 parcels for PONC consideration since the program began, according to the 2014 annual report, the latest one available. The county has so far bought 1,260 acres at a total acquisition cost of $31.7 million, including state and federal grants and private donations.

There was $7.5 million in the fund as of Nov. 2, according to the latest PONC financial report.

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