Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Volcanoes park
could grow 50%

The Big Island national park
is holding talks to acquire Kahuku
Ranch from the Damon Estate

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent

HILO -- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may acquire the huge Kahuku Ranch at the southern end of the Big Island, a move that would increase the park's size by 50 percent.

Although the ranch would be incorporated into the park, Superintendent Jim Martin said the area would require a new administrative center and that would be like creating a new national park.

Hawaii Volcanoes consists of 229,117 acres, stretching from the ocean to the 13,679-foot summit of Mauna Loa. Kahuku Ranch has 117,393 acres, extending from about 1,200 feet to 12,500 feet elevation.

Kahuku Ranch is owned by the Damon Estate. Chief operating officer Jim Whitman said it was offered for sale a few years ago, then withdrawn. Discussions are now under way about acquisition by the Nature Conservancy, he said.

Martin said the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the park are discussing cooperating to obtain the ranch.

Martin was excited about obtaining an area that has 100-year-old ranch buildings, ancient archaeological sites such as walled caves, geological sites such as a volcanic cone where pure sulfur erupted, many areas of koa forest, and several species of endangered birds and the endangered Kau silversword plant.

Not everyone is pleased. Bill Eger, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives, 4th District, which includes the ranch and the park, called the proposed purchase a "federal land grab."

Eger is seeking a hearing on the proposal by the U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee, of which Rep. Neil Abercrombie is a member.

He also is meeting with hunting groups that may oppose the purchase because park ownership would mean elimination of non-native game animals at the ranch.

The National Park Service can acquire land only by donation or exchange.

Sen. Daniel Akaka has a bill pending in Congress that would allow purchases.

Eger said Akaka's office told him the ranch was previously offered for $35 million.

The Nature Conservancy sometimes buys tracts of land and sells them to the government.

Funding from the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is possible, Martin said. Fish and Wildlife might retain control of some land, or all of it might go to the park, he said.

Eger said the sale of the ranch would mean loss of property taxes to the county, but Martin counters that the government makes "payment in lieu of taxes" in perpetuity.

Martin said park development in Kau would mean hiring of additional staff and could eventually foster private businesses such as bed-and-breakfasts.

If the government doesn't acquire the land, a private developer might do so, subdivide, and create ranchettes, he said.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin