Group seeks more time on Waimea Valley
The Audubon Society wants to delay today's City Council vote on a settlement for the scenic valley
The National Audubon Society will ask the City Council to postpone a vote on Waimea Valley today so it can help put together a deal that would not include a housing development in the ecologically fragile area.
The City Council has until today to decide whether to accept a proposal to settle a lawsuit. It will vote on whether to allow the city to keep 300 acres currently under the jurisdiction of the National Audubon Society, and also allow Attractions Hawaii to keep the remaining acreage for an eight-parcel residential subdivision and an ecological camp.
Last month, the Council voted 5-4 to give preliminary approval to the settlement. But that decision has come under criticism.
"Now is the time to do it right," said John Flicker, head of the New York-based environmental nonprofit. "Everyone on the Council wants to protect the valley. They just have different strategies to get there.
"We think the majority of the Council right now is fundamentally wrong in their strategy," he said.
He said the society is offering to facilitate a deal that could include seeking financial support from other government and private agencies to purchase the valley.
"I think we have a proposal on the table now that allows everybody to come together with a win-win. The mayor can be a hero, the City Council does the right thing, the community will like it, the donors will step up and everybody can participate," Flicker said.
"Someone needed to come in and kind of pull this thing together and we may need to be the vehicle that does the financing," he said.
The city filed a condemnation lawsuit in December 2001 to acquire the 1,875-acre valley from New York investor Christian Wolffer's Attractions Hawaii. The city has already paid $5.1 million for the property.
Flicker said what the Council must first do is to either defer voting on the settlement offer, which would in effect kill it, or reject the offer outright.
"Let the settlement offer expire and go to court," Flicker said.
The city then has until the Feb. 13 trial date to negotiate a firm price. "The Feb. 13 trial date deadline is a good deadline to force everyone to table," he said.
If a price can't be negotiated before the deadline, then both sides can go to court, where Flicker believes that a reasonable price will be arrived at, with some pointing to a range of between just after $2 million and a high of $18 million.
"And when we know how much it is, and we've got some fixed deal, we can then go to all the other parties," he said.
Those parties could include the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the federal government and private entities.
"I'm comfortable we can find the money if we have enough time," Flicker said.
Flicker said that if the City Council votes in favor of the settlement offer, the Audubon Society will not operate the nature center at Waimea Valley.
"We've informed the city that if that happens, they would need to find another operator. Our reason for being there is to protect the valley," Flicker said.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann, speaking through a spokesman, declined to comment, citing advice from city attorneys not to comment.
City Councilman Charles Djou, who had voted in favor of the deal, also declined comment because of an imposed "gag order."
Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, however, called the Audubon's proposal "refreshing."
"I'm excited of this new possibility," he said. "We need everyone to follow through on the commitments that they are making now."
Opponents of the settlement said they plan to rally against the development plans today at city hall.
"Not only is there passion, there is anger," said Scott Foster, spokesman for Stewards of Waimea Valley.
Other public officials are also stepping to up offer assistance to the city to prevent the valley from being developed.
Both state Senate President Robert Bunda and state Rep. Michael Magaoay, who represent the district, said they will get involved.