Monday, April 25, 2005

Big Island moves
to buy open land

HILO » The Hawaii County Council is moving forward to better protect prime open land from development.

The Council voted 7-1 last week to issue $500,000 in general obligation bonds that would help pay for the purchase of land on the pristine Kau coast, a largely undeveloped 80-mile stretch of shoreline on the southern tip of the Big Island.

The 11 parcels that make up 224 acres fronting Honuapo Beach and fishponds, near the famous Punaluu Black Sand Beach, are currently on the market for $2.7 million.

The property is owned by Honuapo Bay Ranch Estates of Burlingame, Calif., according to Hawaii County tax records.

Mayor Harry Kim said he supports the effort to buy Honuapo, but noted that additional funding from the state or federal government will be necessary to complete the transaction.

Two weeks ago U.S. Rep. Ed Case told Big Island residents he was working to acquire federal money under the Marine Coastal Estuary Program.

Also on Wednesday the County Council's Finance Committee took up two related land preservation measures.

One bill would create a permanent fund by taking 2 percent of property taxes, which would be about $3 million this year, to buy land for public use. Kauai and Maui have similar funds using property taxes. The measure advanced to the full Council.

Kim expressed concerns about dipping into property taxes.

"There are so many needs and priorities of county government, setting aside a fixed percentage of property tax annually is not advisable," he said in a letter to the Council.

A second bill would allow the county to borrow $10 million to buy additional open land.

Kim also stated that borrowing an additional $10 million could negatively affect the county's bond rating. The finance committee deferred a vote on the measure until May 3.

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