Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Audubon bids for
Waimea Falls

The group proposes to operate
a botanical and cultural center

By Pat Omandam

The National Audubon Society has submitted a bid to the city to operate Waimea Falls Park as a botanical and cultural education center.

It is part of the Audubon Society's program to create community-based centers across the country. If chosen by the city, Waimea Valley would be the nonprofit group's first such center in Hawaii, said Tamar Chotzen, senior vice president of education and centers at the National Audubon Society.

"We're really focused on the individual traveler that wants to come and have a high quality experience," said Chotzen, former director of the Hawaii Nature Center.

"Our real interest is engaging the local community in protecting and understanding the site, and enhancing cultural education and cultural resources in the community."

The Audubon Society's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, with an emphasis on birds and other wildlife. Founded in 1905, it was successful in protecting ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest and preventing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The city took control of the 1,875-acre North Shore valley on Feb. 26 after the City Council agreed to condemn the property and set aside $5.2 million to buy it after it was put up for sale in August 2000 and the Waimea Falls Adventure Park was put under bankruptcy protection in April 2001.

Malcolm Tom, city deputy managing director, said yesterday that requests for bids went out March 6 for a long-term manager for the valley. Tom said the city needs an operator who will protect, enhance and preserve the cultural, environmental, botanical and historic resources in the valley.

The area includes 36 botanical gardens and some 6,000 rare species of plants. Current management of the park is on a month-by-month basis until an operator is selected, Tom said.

The city is waiting for the Circuit Court to decide the final condemnation price. Owner Christian Wolffer, a New York investor, had sought a price of $25 million two years ago, which he lowered to $19 million.

One person closely watching the action is John Waihee IV, a trustee at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Last summer, with Waihee's persistence, the OHA board agreed to buy the valley at the city condemnation price only if a review of it showed the property was free of debt.

But the condemnation process lasted much longer than the 90 days OHA allowed for the financial view. Today, Waihee remains hopeful the agency will someday control the property, given the city's finances and the change in city administration next year.

E-mail to City Desk


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