The state's purchase of Lipoa Point from landowner Maui Land & Pineapple Co. has taken a "big and important step" following the release of $500,000 by Gov. Neil Abercrombie for appraisals of the coastal land, state politicians said.
The money, which was part of a $20 million allocation to various statewide capital improvement projects, helped pay for the property appraisal, boundary surveys and title search, the governor's office said in a news release Wednesday afternoon.
"Now we're waiting for the appraisal report in a couple days and keeping our fingers crossed that it's going to be the same price that was agreed on earlier," West Maui state Rep. Angus McKelvey said.
In March, ML&P received an appraisal on the lands of about $21 million by ACM Consultants Inc., McKelvey said. Three months later Abercrombie authorized $20 million for the purchase and preservation of Lipoa Point.
The current appraisal was ordered by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources late last year by another consultant, McKelvey said.
"Once that's done we'll sign the agreement and pass over all the money directly to the (unfunded) pension liability," he said. "Then we can pop some champagne because the land will be off the table from further development."
ML&P officials declined to comment until the purchase has been finalized.
The legislative appropriations call for the purchase of about 280 acres of undeveloped shoreline around Honolua Bay and mandates that the money received by ML&P go toward defined benefit pension funds and toward absolving the state of remaining liability.
As of the end of September, the company had unfunded pension liabilities of $24.2 million, with those liabilities secured by about 8,400 acres, including Lipoa Point, according to a third-quarter report last year.
Lipoa Point's role in these unfunded pension liabilities came up during last year's General Plan discussions when groups sought to have the area designated as preservation instead of agricultural. ML&P resisted, saying the change would devalue the land and jeopardize pension agreements for its workers.
State Sen. Roz Baker, who represents West and South Maui, said she was "delighted" to see the purchase on track; however, she said she knows that the process "does not begin and end at the Legislature."
"The DLNR will have to work with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust for a memorandum of agreement with how they're going to be caretakers for the property so there's still more work to be done," Baker said.
Although McKelvey is still waiting and hoping for "the inking of the deal," he said he is thankful that the historic land was not sold to international investors who were rumored to be looking to develop the area.
"Really, this was an incredible opportunity," he said.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.