Good move made on Waimea Valley
The City Council has rejected a deal that would have divided the ahupuaa.
IN TURNING away an offer
that would have split Waimea Valley's makai and mauka connection, the City Council has done the right thing. With offers of financial and legal help from several quarters, perhaps the last intact ahupuaa on Oahu could be preserved.
Community and environmental groups, the Audubon Society, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and individuals deserve kudos for convincing the Council to reverse its approval of a settlement it had preliminarily approved.
The huge swell of support convinced the risk-averse Council and the city administration that the public puts the valley's worth above the possible financial toll.
The city moved to acquire the l,875-acre valley, approving condemnation in 2001, a year after it was first put up for sale for $25 million, then $19 million, with no takers. The city put up $5.1 million for its purchase, money that already has been transferred to the land owner, Christian Wolffer, who has filed for bankruptcy.
As the trial to set a price neared, the city received an offer for settlement that would divide the valley, with the city getting 300 makai acres and the owner retaining more than 1,500 acres inland. Fearing that the court would set a far higher amount, Mayor Hannemann pressed the Council to consider the settlement.
However, community groups and the Audubon Society, which manages the valley's park on short-term leases, oppose the division as well as Wolffer's plans to build houses and a tourist facility, and let city officials know they were willing to stand up for preservation.
Supporters believe a court or a mediator will determine a reasonable price for the valley. If costs exceed $5.1 million, the Audubon Society, OHA, the state and others believe they can raise the funds.
Should the price tag far surpass expectations, the city still has the option of stopping condemnation proceedings and walking away. But it seems unlikely that Wolffer would want this. Even if he retains the property, opportunities for financial gain are restricted.
The property -- which contains hundreds of archaeological and cultural sites and remains largely unsurveyed -- is zoned for conservation, severely limiting development. In addition, state land officials have told the Council that any zone changes to allow development would be doubtful.