County in contract to buy lost lava land

  • Lava enters the ocean between Waiopea Tide Pools and Ahalanui Park Monday. (Photo courtesy USGS)

HILO — The ongoing lava flow has swallowed most of a $2.7 million parcel the county is buying for open space.

About two-thirds of the 284-acre parcel in Vacationland, currently in escrow, has been inundated, said county Property Manager Hamana Ventura.


The parcel, known as the Vacationlands Land Trust/Hara Property, includes what were previously the Waiopae tide pools before lava consumed them last month. The property borders the south side of Kapoho Kai Road and is makai of Highway 137. It also borders the marine life conservation district with about 4,000 feet of shoreline south of the Vacationland subdivision.

Ventura said the county Corporation Counsel is in discussions with the state Department of the Attorney General, because the state Legacy Land conservation program had committed to chipping in $1.3 million.

Commissioners at a meeting Monday of the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission asked if the county can simply back out of the purchase.

The purchase was intended to create a buffer between Vacationland development and the tide pools, said Commissioner Rene Siracusa. There are discussions ongoing about restricting future development in Lava Zone 1, she said.

“That would remove the reason for having a buffer,” Siracusa said.

Commissioner Koohan Paik-Mander said the county could just ask the Legacy Land Conservation Commission to withhold the money.

“Is there any sense or common sense to ask Legacy Land to not move forward?” Paik-Mander said. “Does it make sense to tell Legacy Land we want to withdraw this whole deal?”

Commissioners were told the authority to do that doesn’t lie with them. Their authority stops once the commission ranks its purchase recommendations and submits it to the mayor.

The County Council had approved a purchase resolution for the property in 2013, and negotiations began in 2014.

Ventura said the county hasn’t yet received a notice to proceed from the state, because the Legacy Land grant hasn’t been finalized.

“Once we get clarification and a decision from Legacy Lands … then the county will be coming up with a game plan,” Ventura said.

There is still value in the property as an educational opportunity, he said outside the meeting. The land offers a unique opportunity for scientists and students and perhaps will excite youngsters into pursuing careers in science, he said.

“Maybe it will give everyone updated information when it comes to current and updated flows,” Ventura said. “If you get a chance to study volcanology in real time and see it as it unfolds, that’s something else.”

The land fund began after more than half of island voters cast their ballots in favor of setting aside 2 percent of property tax revenues to buy open space. As of June 30, the fund had grown to $16.2 million.


After former Mayor Billy Kenoi in 2010 suspended payments into the fund to balance the budget, voters approved a charter amendment requiring at least 1 percent of property tax revenues go to the fund, rather than simply recommending it. In November 2012, voters increased that minimum back to 2 percent and approved a new measure, this one to set aside 0.25 percent of revenues to maintain lands purchased through the fund.

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.

  1. Big Mac July 10, 2018 3:01 am

    Does it make sense to use taxpayers money to pay 10 times what that land is currently worth? Not with my hard earned money! The county needs to back out of this deal ASAP.

  2. Big ideas July 10, 2018 5:55 am

    Cancel the sale – the land is worthless now……save the taxpayers the $$. If you want to do good – use it to offset the hole in the County’s first responder over time budget .

    1. KonaRich July 10, 2018 2:10 pm

      When has the State or County ever done the correct thing for we the tax payer. They let there cronies get involved with contracts like this and it’s always in their favor not ours. The democrats have be in charge for over 64 years. How has thing gotten better in that time? Vote them back in and hope for better results?

  3. Scooby July 10, 2018 8:19 am

    Just so happen to be adjacent to Mayor Kim’s vacation home. Moot point now but interesting how quiet that purchase was going.

    1. Rusty Da Clown July 10, 2018 4:11 pm

      The one piece of land Harry Kim tried to protect – right in front of his second home. How convenient.

  4. Kaipo Wall July 10, 2018 9:53 am

    Once lava inundates a property , who owns that new lava that covers the property and what happens to the lost & buried property and property value of those whose land has been inundated ?

    1. Bill July 10, 2018 11:27 am

      “Lisa Miura, Hawaii County’s real property tax administrator provided these answers:”

      “The government does not claim ownership of all land covered by lava; the private property owner retains title even as the land’s assessed value plummets to zero.”

      More details here:
      Who Owns The Land Created By A Lava Flow and What Are Homeowner Recourses For Lava Inundation?


  5. Buds4All July 10, 2018 10:12 am

    Really this is still a consideration? I know lets put an L&L out there!

  6. Francine Roby July 10, 2018 2:58 pm

    So do they have to wait for the new evaluation of the land by an independent appraiser to know what it’s worth? It was good someone on the Commission– mahalo Koohan Paik-Mander– asked the sensible question about stopping to look at the changed situation. The original intention of having a buffer is moot now.

    1. Rusty Da Clown July 10, 2018 4:12 pm

      Will be interesting to see how much Mr. Koohan Paik spends making noise now that he’s running for County Council.

      1. Greg July 10, 2018 4:45 pm

        Ms. Koohan Paik-Mander

      2. Francine Roby July 11, 2018 8:44 am

        She is a Ms. Her name is Koohan Paik-Mander. And she is running for District 1 House of Representatives. She has dedicated her life to making focused and intelligent noise for the environment, sustainable energy, local agriculture, and working people. Vote for her!

  7. Rusty Da Clown July 10, 2018 4:11 pm

    Has anyone noticed how county efforts to protect open spaces just stopped after Mayor Billy left office? This story makes it sound like he tried to stop the program, but in reality Kenoi protected many more acres than Harry Kim’s first administration and second round combined.

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