HONOLULU — One way or another, the state will buy the Turtle Bay Resort and its surrounding lands on Oahu’s North Shore under a measure passed Thursday.
The proposal orders Gov. Linda Lingle to negotiate to purchase the 880-acre property, which includes a hotel, beaches, two golf courses and swaths of forestland.
If she can’t work a deal, the state would use its power of eminent domain to take over the land for preservation, according to the bill. Any agreement could cost hundreds of millions in taxpayer money.
‘‘The goal is to give residents of this state places to rest, places to recreate, places to be,’’ said Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahuku-Kaneohe.
The Senate approved the measure 14-11, and the House voted 37-10. It now will be sent to Lingle for her signature.
Lingle started the push to preserve the wild nature of Turtle Bay with a surprise announcement in her State of the State speech in January.
This bill wasn’t necessary to go ahead with the purchase, but it’s viewed as a sign of the Legislature’s commitment to potentially spend the millions it would take to finish the deal. Estimates for its selling price have ranged anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion.
‘‘With Hawaii’s economic vitality in question, how in the world can we go down the road of spending hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money for the purchase of Turtle Bay?’’ asked Rep. Glenn Wakai, D-Moanalua Valley-Salt Lake. ‘‘I really doubt and question if we as a state can afford to purchase Turtle Bay.’’
The measure gives $250,000 to start working a deal between the state and Oaktree Capital Management, which bought the property in 1998 and has been looking for a buyer or development partner since June 2006.
Ideally, natural lands, including Kawela Bay, would become state parks, while the resort operations could be flipped to a private operator, according to members of a group set up by the governor to facilitate the process. If the state government, nonprofit groups and the resort can find a purchase price, legislators could be called back to the Capitol to allocate the money.
‘‘This is the state coming in and trying to take over a profitable operating hotel property right now that hasn’t asked for the state to come in and do that,’’ said Sen. Sam Slom, R-Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai.
Some lawmakers worried that the bill commits the state to buying Turtle Bay regardless of how much it costs.
The measure may leave the state some wiggle room because eminent domain would be exercised only if an agreement to acquire the property weren’t reached ‘‘within a reasonable time.’’ Lingle is given authority to decide how long that would be.
‘‘Eminent domain is a means of last resort,’’ said Rep. Blake Oshiro, D-Aiea-Halawa. ‘‘We are serious. We want to buy this property. Without that language, this bill would lack the hammer to make this bill truly meaningful.’’