Valley's worth can't be counted in dollars alone
The City Council is considering a proposal to split Waimea Valley.
AS THE Honolulu City Council deliberates a deal that would sever shoreline from mountain in Waimea Valley
, it appears that money is at the core of its considerations.
However, the Council must balance its financial responsibility to taxpayers with the public's desire to keep intact one of the few undivided ahupuaa -- the land from mountain to sea -- remaining on Oahu. It is essential that members weigh whether a quick cost-solution that the valley's dissection will allow is worth more than the preservation of a small segment of the island in the long term.
More than four years ago, the city began condemnation to acquire the 1,875 acres with the view that the North Shore valley merited public claim when the bankrupt owner, who ran an tourist-oriented entertainment-theme park there, put it up for sale.
For the last two years, the area has been managed by the National Audubon Society, which has worked with community groups and others to restore gardens with native plants -- some of them nearly extinct species -- and to encourage return of endangered native birds to sustain a cultural, environmental and educational center.
To buy the land, the city set aside $5.2 million, but now the Council and Mayor Hannemann worry that the price tag might go higher if the condemnation proceedings go to court.
There is no way to predict what amount a court will set; the landowner had first sought $25 million, then $19 million. So the Council is considering a settlement that would have the city retain just 300 acres. The remaining 1,500 acres would revert to the owner, whose plans might include subdividing the upper regions of the valley into eight parcels for a half-dozen houses and a tourist camp.
In condemnations, a court considers potential use of lands in determining value. The Waimea Valley land is zoned conservation, which lowers its dollar value. In order to build residential units, a tourist facility and accompanying roads and infrastructure, the state Land Use Commission's approval of a change must be obtained, a major hurdle for development.
In addition, the valley, most of which has yet to be fully surveyed, contains more than 30 archaeological sites -- including one of the largest heiau on Oahu -- Hawaiian burial caves and other historical remnants of human occupation. Though these are of great value culturally, they could be hindrances for any development.
Whatever the case, the Council's primary focus is cost. Members appear unwilling to gamble that the court might raise the price of the land or that the legal proceedings might stretch on. However, the public has supported the valley's acquisition as a whole. The Council should stand behind that goal.