Feds to buy
Big Island forest
land for $3.4M

The acreage was the center
of debate over geothermal
power in the 1980s

Congress has approved $3.4 million for the purchase of more than 25,000 acres of forest on the Big Island that had once been at the center of protests over geothermal power.

The Wao Kele o Puna forest could become the third purchase in Hawaii under the federal Forest Legacy Program, begun in 1990. The other projects include two conservation easements bought for $3.3 million in South Kona.

Currently owned by Campbell Estate, Wao Kele o Puna had formerly been at the center of protests in the late 1980s over a company's plan to harness steam from a volcanic rift zone to generate electricity.

Wyoming-based True Geothermal, however, had failed to find the steam resource on the tract needed on the land for commercial development.

The estate originally intended to use its land at Kahaualea for the project. Those lands were covered by lava from neighboring Kilauea's eruption beginning in 1983.

Two years later, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the trade of the Kahaualea lands for the state-owned Wao Kele o Puna, which included the Puna Forest Reserve.

The tract is one of the last large intact lowland forests in Hawaii, according to the Trust for Public Land, which is helping to coordinate the acquisition.

It is also a critical seed bank for regenerating plants in areas covered by Kilauea's eruptions and represents one-fifth the watershed feeding the island's largest water source, the Pahoa aquifer, the trust said.

The funding for the purchase was included in the Department of Interior's budget for the fiscal year Oct. 1, said Anne Stewart, legislative director for U.S. Rep. Ed Case.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

The proposed purchase will help preserve valuable natural resources and finally resolves the issues that generated protests decades ago, said County Councilman Bob Jacobson.

"This is the healing of a great ill," he said.

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