Governor signs authorization for purchase of Lipoa Point

WAILEA – The first bill that Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed when he and other lawmakers visited Maui on Friday was one that authorizes a $20 million appropriation for the purchase and preservation of Lipoa Point.

“When I first began my campaign, I said I’d do everything I could to not have an Oahu-centric administration,” Abercrombie said at the bill signing ceremony held at the Grand Wailea.

“(The appropriation for Lipoa Point) is no small deal,” he said. “What that means is that Maui legislators were able to make a very specific case in terms of public good to be established and put some serious dollars behind it.”

The bill’s signing authorizes the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to acquire about 280 acres of coastal lands surrounding and north of Honolua Bay, an area the governor described as “one of the most iconic landmarks in Hawaii.”

Groups sought to change the area designation to preservation last year during county General Plan discussions, but landowner Maui Land & Pineapple Co. resisted, saying the change would devalue the land and jeopardize pension agreements for its workers.

Lawmakers have described the passage of the bill as a “win-win situation” in which the pensioners will be paid, and the land will be kept free from development.

“This measure speaks to the power of unity and diversity and what amazing things can happen when people get involved with the process . . . The environmental community, labor, business and other groups who have been traditionally diametrically opposed on pieces of legislation (came) together as one for this important cause,” said West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey, who spearheaded efforts to pass the bill.

Members from the Save Honolua Coalition, a community group that has been lobbying for the preservation of the area for the last seven years, were elated at not only having acquired the funds, but having the governor travel to Maui to recognize their efforts.

“It’s more than I ever dreamed of to have this moment in time where community can have this level of completion. It’s rare,” Save Honolua Coalition Vice President John Carty said at the bill signing ceremony. “A lot of time, important causes don’t get a big moment like this one.”

Carty added that Lipoa Point is a cultural site for Native Hawaiians, is home to a number of endangered plant and animal species and was the departure point for Hokule’a’s maiden voyage to Tahiti in 1976.

“It’s not just saving it (Lipoa Point) for recreation, but saving it for future generations,” he said. “Everyone who goes gets filled with a love for this place (and) the spirit of the land. It’s gratifying to know that people seven generations from now will still be able to enjoy it.”

Dozens of state lawmakers, county officials and community organizations gathered Friday morning at the Grand Wailea to witness the governor sign four bills that will directly affect Maui.

“I think it’s really great that the governor is coming to the islands where it’s (the bills are) going to be enacted and have the most impact,” Mayor Alan Arakawa said. “This is a first that I know of where the governor comes out and makes this much noise. That’s a real positive thing.”

Arakawa added that many of the Maui representatives have been making efforts to build connections between the Legislature and the communities they represent.

“State and county work together. It is a cooperative venture,” he said. “Without the cooperation, nothing gets done.”

The mayor said that the state appropriations for Maui this year in the $23.8 billion biennium state budget proposal were “very positive” and “very impressive.” Those included $130 million for a new Kihei high school as well as millions towards transportation improvements.

Other measures that were signed by the governor Friday included:

* Senate Bill 498, which appropriates $600,000 for the establishment of a Maalaea-based special emergency vehicle unit.

* House Bill 1412, which requires the Department of Land and Natural Resources to accommodate native Hawaiian canoes for cultural and education purposes at small boat harbors.

* House Bill 1328 which will increase the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission’s purchasing flexibility by making permanent the exemption for the procurement of food or fuel products.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at