Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden inches toward county preservation

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HILO — A plan to preserve the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden is slowly moving forward, as the county awaits its pending sale before moving to purchase a conservation easement.


HILO — A plan to preserve the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden is slowly moving forward, as the county awaits its pending sale before moving to purchase a conservation easement.

The 15-acre garden closed in early 2016 after its owner, Bishop Museum on Oahu, said it was putting the land up for sale. The Hawaii Island Land Trust is currently negotiating to purchase the property, County Property Manager Hamana Ventura said Tuesday.

The Friends of Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden was created as a nonprofit, and the group has been conducting regular maintenance of the premises as negotiations continue.

The county can’t buy the property outright as it does with most of its land purchases. But buying conservation easements that will prevent development is one way to accomplish that.

“The parcels are deed restricted. They have to be sold to another nonprofit,” Ventura said. “This gives us an opportunity to assist.”

Once the sale is complete, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David will bring a resolution to the County Council to purchase a conservation easement for a little more than 8 acres of the property. Details of the pending sale and the cost of the easement have yet to be disclosed.

“It has so much history, so much cultural significance,” David said. “It should be kept for the community.”

Among the features of the garden is Paikapahau Heiau and a collection of 200 species of rare and endangered plants.

“We’re so excited,” Meg Greenwell, niece of Amy Greenwell, said. “We are truly dedicated to this becoming a reality.”

A commission charged with recommending county land purchases agrees. The Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission made the easement its top priority in a list accepted Tuesday by the council Finance Committee.

The so-called PONC board is charged with prioritizing county purchases annually from 2 percent of the county’s property tax revenue set aside for preservation. The fund currently holds $10.5 million for acquisition and $1.9 million for maintenance.

The maintenance account, which provides grants to community groups and nonprofits to take care of the property once it’s purchased, especially irked Kona testifier Abel Lui.

Lui was evicted from land the county bought using the fund at Kawa Bay in 2012. Lui, who had built a house and erected tents where he and a group lived on the waterfront, had maintained he was the kahu, or Hawaiian caretaker, of the land.


“There’s a conspiracy going on about selling our lands. They say they’re volunteers but they’re getting paid,” Abel said. “Everyone jump on the bandwagon and try to get grants on this. This is one racket.”

Other land on the 2016 priority list are Mahukona (North Kohala), Halelua (North Kohala), Pohue Bay (Ka‘u), Hakalau Valley (South Hilo), Lamaloloa (North Kohala), Keawenui (North Kohala), Kukuipahu to Ha‘ena corridor (North Kohala) and Haleohiu homesteads (North Kona).

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