WAILUKU - Maui County has purchased 64 acres of undeveloped property fronting Kaehu Bay, preserving the wetland and fishponds in a $996,000 deal brokered with the Trust for Public Land and other groups, according to an announcement Tuesday.
"We have been fortunate to work with the Paukukalo and Waiehu communities, The Trust for Public Land and the Maui County Council to purchase this invaluable coastal land and save it from proposed development," said Mayor Alan Arakawa. "Our local communities are especially dependent on our shorelines for subsistence, recreation and well-being, so it is important that the coastal wetlands at Kaehu Bay will now remain a priceless cultural and natural resource on Maui for generations to come."
The property includes more than 4,500 feet of shoreline at Kaehu Bay, located between the mouths of the Waiehu and Iao streams. It is one of the last undeveloped shoreline parcels and includes a network of wetlands and fishponds.
The property features numerous Hawaiian cultural sites, including habitation structures, agricultural terraces, former fishponds, shrines and burials, the announcement said. The coastal wetlands are potential future habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds such as the aeo (Hawaiian stilt), alae keokeo (Hawaiian coot) and koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck). The property is adjacent to the Paukukalo Hawaiian homestead and near the Waiehu Kou homesteads. It is a popular coastal area for surfing, fishing and other recreational activities.
Other groups involved in the land acquisition were Kauahea Inc., the Neighborhood Place of Wailuku and other community partners and individuals, officials said.
Kauahea Inc., led by kumu Hokulani Holt, supported recent efforts to acquire the land and is organizing community grass-roots efforts to manage and restore the natural and cultural resources on the property.
"We hope that the community and individuals who love the land will work together with us to heal and restore the resources on the land for future generations," Holt said.
The Neighborhood Place of Wailuku offers cultural education and land stewardship programs to Maui youth and their families on 8 acres on the property as part of its cultural strengthening program. Volunteers with the nonprofit have restored two of the springs on the property, removed invasive species, began a native plant greenhouse, replanted taro and provided landscape maintenance.
Venus Rosete-Medeiros, the founder of Neighborhood Place and a current board member, said members of the nonprofit are "ecstatic" that the threat of development of the property has been removed.
"The land is a resource that helps restore and heal the families that are able to use the land," Rosete-Medeiros said. "We hope the land will continue as a healing resource for our program participants and the broader community."
Duke Sevilla, one of the founders of Hui O Na Wai 'Eha and a longtime Paukukalo community member, said he got the idea of restoring Kaehu's taro patches and fishponds 40 years ago from his father, A.B. Sevilla.
"I am glad that it is finally coming to a reality," he said. "I hope that the citizens of Maui County will help in the restoration and see that this is part of all of our legacy."
The Trust for Public Land, a private national nonprofit land conservation organization, assisted the county with the acquisition. The trust acquired the property through foreclosure proceedings, at one point making a nonrefundable deposit of $160,000 to secure its bid and using its lines of credit to pay the remainder of the bid price in cash in escrow. The trust also paid for an appraisal, a preliminary environmental study, and other fees and costs.
The land has been appraised at $2 million, according to the announcement, and the county's real property tax records show an assessed value of nearly $1.4 million.
Michael Spalding, a member of the Trust for Public Land's Hawaiian Islands Program Advisory Council, said the acquisition was "an amazing team effort."
"As a Realtor and someone who loves the ocean, I have been aware of the threat of development of this land for some time, and am very happy it has been saved for the community and that it will be there for future generations of surfers, fishermen and local families," he said.
The Kaehu Bay purchase marks the Trust for Public Land's 26th completed project in Hawaii, where it has conserved more than 40,300 acres.
For more information, go online to www.tpl.org.