Gathering Places


Thursday, June 7, 2001

OHA should purchase
Waimea Valley

One who wishes to succeed should be alert to every opportunity, like one who catches birds by imitating their cries. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, caught in a tug of war between aspects of being a perpetual trust and a quasi-government agency, has developed some unproductive qualities.

Whether it has been a sense of paranoid fiscal conservation, the inability to agree, or just an inordinate focus on the same old tired businesses, many golden opportunities have passed us by. Fortunately, as the spring of opportunity flows eternal, for every opportunity missed, another arises. The chance for OHA to acquire Waimea Valley on Oahu's North Shore is one such opportunity.

The acquisition of Waimea Valley should not necessarily be viewed as a purchase, but as a shifting of some of OHA's investments. Currently OHA's portfolio, which has recently been fluctuating between $300 million to $400 million, is almost entirely in stocks and bonds. Diversifying the portfolio to include land investments would lessen our dependence on the market. Should OHA receive Waimea Valley's nearly 1,900 acres at around the city's appraisal of $5.5 million, it would not only be a valuable investment, but one that our beneficiaries could see and experience.

From a cultural standpoint, obtaining Waimea Valley for the Hawaiian people is awesome. From its 6,000 types of plants, including 400 endangered indigenous species, to its two major heiaus, including Pu'u O Mahuka -- the largest sacrificial temple on Oahu, Waimea Valley is truly the quintessence of Hawaiian culture. Who better not only to understand, but to perpetuate and protect these treasures than the Office of Hawaiian Affairs?

Having a place where Hawaiians could gather together also would help give OHA an identity. Currently OHA does its business out of rented space and offers most of its programs, grants and scholarships through other organizations. Having something of substance that the beneficiaries could relate to, OHA would help provide a spiritual connection. An ahupua'a rich in Hawaiian culture, values and tradition such as Waimea Valley would achieve this perfectly.

Attaining Waimea Valley could even help the Hawaiian cause for federal recognition. One of the many intentions for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in its conception was for it to be a model for sovereignty. The acquisition of a land base is essential for OHA to fulfill this goal.

Finally, Waimea Valley could also be a source of economic development. As a perpetual trust, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs must look for ways to become economically autonomous.

While Waimea Valley will never accomplish this in and of itself, it could still serve as a revenue base. As landowners, OHA would have exclusive rights to charge user fees to non-Hawaiians, or to seek joint partnerships within it. With its lush vastness and breathtaking waterfall, Waimea Valley could be a moneymaker while still preserving its cultural identity.

In the end, the acquisition of Waimea Valley by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is an extraordinary opportunity that has much going for it. What the future holds for this wondrous place is uncertain. Hopefully, the opportunity of Waimea Valley will not end up as another lost one.

John Waihee IV is a trustee
of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

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