Supporters of Turtle Bay plan make their last push
Legislative showdown awaits latest purchase plan
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A last-minute compromise to show the majority Democratic Legislature's support for Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal to buy the Turtle Bay Report and preserve the undeveloped land around it could still fall apart, supporters said yesterday.
Even though the measure is largely symbolic, supporters of the plan are lobbying lawmakers to make sure it passes a final vote on Tuesday.
"You never know what can happen." said Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe), whose district includes Turtle Bay. "This bill is very significant in that it shows that the legislators are willing to create new statutory law to authorize her to move forward."
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A last-minute compromise by state lawmakers on Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal to buy the Turtle Bay Resort property still faces an uphill battle when it comes up for a final vote in the House and Senate Tuesday.
Although the proposal is largely symbolic and is not required for Lingle to negotiate a deal to buy the 850-acre North Shore property, administration officials and other supporters plan to lobby lawmakers to secure its passage.
"It sends a signal to those who currently own the property, or who may be interested in purchasing the property, that the state is serious about pursuing the acquisition," Linda Smith, Lingle's senior advisor for policy, said yesterday. "We feel that the Legislature has voiced that in a number of ways and this simply reaffirms it."
House and Senate negotiators struck an agreement on the measure just minutes ahead of a midnight deadline Friday.
Lingle, in her state of the state speech, proposed buying the land to prevent further development and maintain the rural nature of the community. Some lawmakers have objected to the cost and noted that no deal is in place for the state to buy the land.
Sen. Clayton Hee, whose district includes Turtle Bay, was among the supporters who helped broker the compromise with House members. He cautioned that nothing is a done deal.
"You never know what can happen." Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) said just after lawmakers beat the midnight deadline. "This bill is very significant in that it shows that the legislators are willing to create new statutory law to authorize her to move forward."
The compromise includes $250,000 from the Land and Development Special Fund that would be available for the administration to use for negotiating the purchase. It deleted a section that would have authorized general obligation bonds for the purchase.
Lingle has said she hopes to buy the land using as little state money as possible. The administration has hired a land appraiser and formed a working group to explore options including federal funds, private donations or public-private partnerships.
If a deal is struck, Lingle might have to call the Legislature back into special session, similar to how lawmakers were called back last year to deal with the Hawaii Superferry.
In that case, lawmakers changed the law in response to a Hawaii Supreme Court decision that said the state should have conducted a detailed environmental review before proceeding with harbor improvements to accommodate the ferry.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa warned that any attempt to seek waivers or exemptions to land use laws to purchase Turtle Bay would be met with resistance.
"Whether it does in the end, we don't know, but I can tell you that's going to be a dealbreaker," Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said yesterday.
Smith said a subcommittee of the advisory group has apprised the administration of some technical matters that could come up during the acquisition, but it is too early to say whether any exemptions or waivers would be sought.
"There's nothing in this bill that's pending before the Legislature for any kind of exemptions, provisions or special treatment for the Turtle Bay acquisition," Smith said. "It's really too early to say exactly what those issues are, how many there may be and how they might be resolved."
Star-Bulletin reporter Richard Borreca contributed to this story.
Lawmakers are set to vote Tuesday on hundreds of bills crafted during the 2008 session, including a bill to move forward on Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal for the state to buy the Turtle Bay Resort as a means of protecting the land from future development.
Senate Bill 2423 would authorize the use of $250,000 in special funds for the administration to use for negotiations. The move is mostly a show of support, and is not required for a deal to be reached.