Sunday, May 30, 2004

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is also interested in the land and parking at Paradise Park as a way to control access to Manoa Falls and the trails in the back of Manoa Valley. This is an overview of the park, looking east.

$5.5 million sought for
Manoa eco-research center

State lawmakers and a University of Hawaii official are renewing a quest to persuade the governor to release $5.5 million to buy Paradise Park in the back of Manoa Valley and turn it into a tropical ecosystems research center.

The Legislature appropriated the money in 2002, but governors Ben Cayetano and Linda Lingle have refused to release the funds, citing the additional construction costs and operating expenses that would be needed. This year's Legislature passed a resolution urging the governor to release the money.

Ken Kaneshiro, the director of the UH Center for Conservation Research and Training, said he is also asking for a meeting with the governor to update her on how the Paradise Park site will increase the chances of getting an $80 million National Science Foundation grant for UH to be part of a research project, called the National Ecological Observation Network, to monitor different ecosystems.

Darryl Wong, the vice-president of Paradise Park and a member of the family that owns the lease on 150 acres where the former tourist attraction sits, said he is also talking with a native Hawaiian group that is looking for grant money to turn Paradise Park into the Hawaiian Cultural Preservation Center, a place where residents and tourists could learn about Hawaiian culture and music. Space in the building where the Treetops Restaurant now sits may also be used as early as this fall for a native Hawaiian charter school.

"We can't wait too much longer, whatever looks most promising is going to be the one that we go with," Wong said. "We want to do the one that makes the most sense which is right now the university one."

Wong said he is looking for a commitment from the state that they want to move forward on the project. Should the $5.5 million be released, it would be used to acquire the lease, buy the fee from the Roman Catholic Church and renovate the multi-story Treetops Restaurant building to house UH offices and labs.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is also interested in the land and parking at Paradise Park as a way to control access to Manoa Falls and the trails in the back of Manoa Valley, said Curt Cottrell, DLNR trails manager.

The Paradise Park site is next to the university's Lyon Arboretum, state conservation land and city Board of Water Supply land. If the state and the university were to acquire the land, Cottrell envisions coordinating the properties with each other.

"It's like peanut butter and jelly," he said.

Kaneshiro said he has been working for 10 years on the concept of a shared site.

He said if the back of Manoa Valley can be fenced off to prevent pigs and other alien species from entering, the area could slowly be replanted with native species. He said a similar project in New Zealand, called the Karoi Sanctuary, has already accomplished a native forest restoration.

Federal environmental agencies like the U.S. Geological Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also interested in moving to the site if the state acquires it and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has promised to try and get $15 million for the construction of a building to house the federal agencies, Kaneshiro said.

State Rep. K. Mark Takai, the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, organized a tour of the site for lawmakers on Friday. Manoa Rep. Kirk Caldwell said his constituents are in favor of the project.

UH Chief of Staff Sam Callejo said the project remains a priority of the university administration. "We've been asking for the money to be released and it's obviously fallen on deaf ears," he said.

Russell Pang, the governor's spokesman, said Lingle is reviewing all appropriations, but construction projects that relate to health and safety will get priority.


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