Thursday, June 14, 2001

OHA logo

OHA to explore
purchase of park

The agency initiates a financial
review of Waimea Falls Park

By Pat Omandam

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has agreed to buy Waimea Falls Park at the city condemnation price only if a review by a licensed real estate firm shows the agency can get the property free of existing debts.

The OHA board, by a 5-3 vote, gave itself 90 days as of yesterday for the financial review to see if there are liens and mortgages attached to the property, but trustees acknowledge the City Council has the last say on the future of the 1,875-acre valley.

The Council on June 20 will vote on a bill that gives the city administration authority to condemn and buy the North Shore site, with $5.2 million set aside for it.

"The City Council still holds all the cards because they have the power of condemnation and so forth," said trustee John D. Waihee IV. "But what I think this does is that it shows that the board has taken a strong position. ... We've gone all the way with it, so I'm very happy with this," he said.

Waihee said he hopes to meet with Mayor Jeremy Harris as well as Council members before Wednesday to see if he can persuade them to defer action on the bill.

Ralph A. Bard III of the Stewards of Waimea Valley told trustees the valley can be a success if changes are made. The new owner must make Waimea Falls Park an all-day tourist destination and not a "steppingstone on a circle-island tour."

"The longer a person stays in the park, the more revenue it makes," Bard said.

But trustee Oz Stender said he was worried about how the cost of operating the park would cut into OHA's budget. He estimates monthly operation costs could hover at $200,000 a month, possibly taking away funding for other OHA programs.

"I just throw that out there because that's been bothering me," Stender said.

OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona also has concerns about the board action because it places the purchase in the hands of the OHA administrator and not the trustees, who have a fiduciary responsibility to the trust.

Apoliona added the city should proceed in the best interest of the people of the city. She and Vice Chairman Donald Cataluna favor a partnership with the city to share costs.

"I'm not against OHA buying this property, but until we get a due diligence, we don't know what we're buying," Cataluna said.

Compounding things is that trustees begin a weeklong interview process Monday for a new administrator.

The contract for current administrator Randy Ogata expires at month's end, and Ogata said yesterday he has not applied for his job, leaving his future up to the will of the trustees.

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