In the blog post announcing my new role as Director of Conservation and Legacy Lands, I was quoted describing the success of the Hawaii County Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources (PONC) fund. In an ironic twist of fate, the current lava flow in Puna has covered about two-thirds of the 284-acre parcel currently being purchased by the County with support from State Legacy Land Conservation Commission. Perfect time to talk about the role played by the funds each of our counties in the state of Hawaiʻi have created to assist in conservation efforts.
The 2018 eruption has covered over eight square miles in the district of lower Puna, including the land slated for County purchase to protect shoreline and Waiopae Tidepools. (Photo credit: James Augustine)
How the Hawaii County Open Space Fund Works
The Hawaii County (i.e. “Big Island”) open space fund was created when voters passed a charter amendment requiring 2% of property tax revenues to be allocated to fund open space purchases. The public is invited annually to nominate properties for permanent preservation. The Commissioners review the suggestion forms, prioritize potential acquisitions, and send their priority list in a report to the Mayor at the end of each year.
Factors considered in nomination and ranking include historic and culturally important features; opportunities for outdoor recreation and education; public access to beaches or mountains; preservation of forests, beaches, coastal areas, and natural beauty; protection of natural resources and watershed lands; the viability of potential partners for ongoing management; and the general benefits to the public.
Kapanaia Bay slated for County purchase has historical, cultural, recreational, scenic, coastal preservation and watershed conservation values.
The process is a long one from a Sellerʻs standpoint. The Commission’s recommendations go to the Mayor and County Council. The County Council passes a resolution authorizing the County Finance Director to begin negotiations. Appraisals have to be ordered as the County cannot pay more than appraised market value. And in most cases, matching funds are raised from State, land trust, or private sources.
Vacationland Open Space Purchase Affected by Lava Flow
Five years ago (2013) the property known as Hara Vacationland was ranked on the PONC list and its authorizing resolution passed County Council. Currently in escrow for $2.7 million, the final step of this purchase was the availability of State Legacy Land funds committed for half the purchase.
The detailed map above shows lava flows between the active ocean entries encompass the Vacationland area where the conservation tract is in escrow.
The issue now is that the reasons for using public funds to preserve this tract from expansion by the nearby housing development are largely under lava: public access to the shoreline for recreational and traditional cultural practices, protection of native habitat and the Waiopae Tidepools, and preservation of documented archeological sites and trails.
While it could be argued that there is still value in the site as a buffer and educational resource, the question remains whether the appraised value is still accurate, and whether the funds should be directed to other priorities, if indeed they still can be.
Each County (basically island) has a similar fund that can be used to acquire conservation easements on privately owned lands as well as for outright purchases. For more information, contact me directly.