WEST MAUI - With help from the community and state lawmakers, the Save Honolua Coalition achieved a major victory last week, said President Tamara Paltin.
West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker reported that the Hawaii House/Senate budget conference concluded with $20 million penciled in to save Lipoa Point at Honolua Bay.
"Securing the money to acquire this important piece of Maui to keep it in conservation in perpetuity, and to save the pensions of many former Maui Land and Pineapple Company workers, is quite overwhelming," Baker commented.
"There was a great lobbying effort by Save Honolua, Hawaii Islands Land Trust... and Rep. McKelvey's leadership was critical to letting Finance and Ways and Means know how important saving Lipoa Point was to the community. We got lots and lots of e-mail."
West and South Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey was among the Valley Isle lawmakers that introduced House Bill 1424.
The measure requires the state Department of Land & Natural Resources, in consultation with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust and with Board of Land & Natural Resources approval, to engage in efforts to acquire the parcel of land at Lipoa Point.
The bill also requires DLNR to ensure, "to the maximum extent possible," that the seller of the land uses the proceeds of the sale to benefit the pension plan of retirees of Maui Land and Pineapple Co. Inc.
McKelvey said, "Securing the 20 million dollars in general obligation bonds for Honolua... in the state budget bill is the first, critical, huge step in saving Honolua now and forever.
"HB1424 was still important, because it protected the state from liabilities remaining in the pension fund and mandates acquisition of the land, with the proceeds being directed solely to the pension liability."
Paltin said she is "somewhat in shock" but very grateful and overjoyed by the news from Honolulu.
"This is by no means the end of the effort; it is really just the beginning," she said. "I envision the community, as well as all of our organizational partners, will be involved in determining exactly what this acquisition by the state means in practical terms. Will there be a change in state/county zoning? Do we want to create a Natural Area Reserve?
"The reality of the situation is the reef is still in serious decline - runoff, black plastic, etc., are all still issues that we face. So we need to figure out how can we all work together to better manage this property and stay in line with our mission: Maintain open space, public access and revitalize the health of the Honolua Ahupua'a through community-based management utilizing Native Hawaiian practices and values. It is still a long road ahead, but now that we have overcome this major hurdle, I really believe that nothing is impossible if we keep the lines of communication open and focus on solutions."
Sen. Baker noted that the Hawaii Legislature received an impressive amount of testimony to protect Lipoa Point above the world-renowned waves at Honolua Bay.
Coalition Vice President John Carty led the group's effective lobbying efforts at the state legislature.
He followed the bill through the various committees and conferences, then put out Facebook and e-mail blasts to the coalition's network of constituents on when and where to submit testimony.
"Many of the legislative aides were impressed by the volume and quality of positive testimony HB1424 received," Paltin said.
Carty and coalition Board Member Glenn Kamaka each visited the legislature, "and John paid his own way several additional times to give testimony and meet with various legislators alongside Ryan Churchill of MLP and Hawaiian Island Land Trust workers," she added.
Paltin thanked Senators Baker, J. Kalani English and Gil Keith-Agaran and Representatives McKelvey, Kaniela Ing, Justin Woodson, Mele Carroll, Joe Souki and Kyle Yamashita for supporting the bill.
"There is no way this could have happened without the hard work and efforts of our own Maui legislators," Paltin commented.
"Additionally, many of our own County Council members followed the bill and wrote their own heartfelt testimony, so we would like to thank them as well. Mahalo to Council Chair Gladys Baisa, Elle Cochran, Don Couch, Mike Victorino, Stacy Crivello and Bob Carroll.
"It is so much work to follow a bill through the legislature, and there are so many outside factors to consider, but thanks to the broad statewide and global support of Honolua, we have a major victory," Paltin concluded.
The Save Honolua Coalition's leadership also includes Secretary Ananda Stone, Treasurer Courtney O'Kief and Board Members Hannah Bernard and David Kapaku.
HB 1424 explains the link between Lipoa Point and MLP's pension fund.
"The legislature finds... that recent contemplation of zoning changes to the area have jeopardized the pension benefits for numerous retirees, as the parcel was pledged against a pension fund established by the retirees' former employer in order to make sure that kupuna would continue to receive the benefits that they worked for," the bill states
"The legislature further finds that acquiring this land for preservation would help protect the area's pristine condition while providing funds to ensure the adequate capitalization of the pension fund."
In related news, Rep. McKelvey on Friday announced that the state released $100,000 to expand Kapalua-West Maui Airport's Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Station.
"The health and safety of our traveling residents and visitors is always a priority in the operation of our airports. This funding impacts the safety of travelers by supporting the firefighting and rescue efforts at Kapalua Airport, ensuring that our public safety officials will be well-prepared in the case of any emergency," McKelvey said.