Maui legislators say governor’s vision lacks details
But one idea that jumped out at lawmakers was the governor’s proposal for the state to purchase the 850-acre Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore.
That “threw me for a loop,” said Sen. Shan Tsutsui, vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which will have to approve all spending plans.
Saying he doesn’t know the details of the proposal, Tsutsui wondered who would run the hotel, how it would be paid for or even why the state would purchase it.
Tsutsui said it’s also unclear how the governor’s proposal to buy North Shore property would fit into the larger picture of public acquisitions of land at Honolua Bay in West Maui, in Makena or on Molokai.
If the state is going to spend “hundreds of millions” buying land, then Tsutsui, whose 4th Senate District runs from Kahakuloa to Paia, said he hoped “Neighbor Islands lands would be considered also.”
The governor’s Turtle Bay proposal also was of particular interest to West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey and Sen. Roz Baker, the Senate Ways and Means chairwoman whose district includes West and South Maui.
Even as Lingle was finishing her speech at the State Capitol on Tuesday, McKelvey and Baker were putting the finishing touches on bills to pave the way for public acquisition of lands around Honolua Bay.
McKelvey’s House version of the measure calls for creating a temporary Honolua Bay advisory committee within the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The panel would develop a Honolua Bay acquisition and management plan to purchase Lipoa Point for development and maintenance as a public open space. The committee would identify state, county, federal and private sources of funding, as well as any tax strategies to accomplish the acquisition of the land.
Baker said legislators would certainly entertain the idea of purchasing the North Shore resort property on Oahu, but she added that it should be looked at “more globally and not just one region.”
“I’m sure every island, every county has areas special enough to warrant . . . some state, federal and county action,” Baker said. “We all have areas in counties we wish to preserve.”
McKelvey said Lingle’s plan for legislators, administration officials and community leaders to form a working group to explore options and develop a plan to purchase the Turtle Bay property was “almost identical” to his and Baker’s proposal to lay the foundation for acquiring the Honolua property.
There is a key difference. Turtle Bay is an already developed resort with 440 rooms, suites and oceanside villas, a spa and two championship golf courses. The land around Honolua Bay is undeveloped conservation and former pineapple land.
“I’d love to have this dovetail” with the governor’s Turtle Bay proposal, McKelvey said, adding that the administration’s initiative could serve as a “launching pad” for the public’s purchase of “invaluable lands.”
Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Molokai and Lanai residents and also serves on the Ways and Committee, said he was pleased that the administration would look at purchasing lands for public use anywhere in the state.
He said there are lands in Hana and on Molokai and Lanai that the state could purchase for preservation and cultural uses.
English said he saw it as the “first step of the administration looking at and embracing the idea.”
South Maui Rep. Joe Bertram III said he’d like to see the concept of the state purchasing private lands to the creation of a “green infrastructure” on Maui with private land acquired for a public greenway and a coastal trail.
The key to success will be in the creation of public-private partnerships as a way to preserve lands, he said.
Veteran Rep. Bob Nakasone, a member of the House Finance Committee, called the governor’s proposal to purchase the Turtle Bay property “very unusual” and questioned how it would impact home-rule issues for the City and County of Honolulu, which maintains planning and zoning authority over the North Shore area.
Nakasone, who represents the Kahului district, also questioned the governor’s proposal to allocate $100 million from the state Employees Retirement System to invest in what Lingle called the “creative ideas and talents of Hawaii’s companies and people.”
He said the state has a fiscal responsibility to retirees, and he didn’t see why the state should tie the retirement fund’s hands on where it will be making investments.
Maui County Council Chairman Riki Hokama said he was hoping to hear more specifics from the governor on how she sees the state responding to a “changing economic environment,” particularly with the threat of a national recession.
“The state is facing some major challenges,” he said, pointing specifically to questions over whether the state is prepared to meet the needs of baby boomers who will be retiring shortly.
Hokama said he supports the governor’s six-year, $850 million plan for statewide harbor improvements, but he’s concerned that those projects would be funded through revenue bonds – paid by fees charged to harbor users, the cost of which eventually would be passed on to consumers.
That funding plan depends on a healthy economy, but if the economy founders then expected revenue would dry up, he said.
Hokama also worried about taking $100 million out of the retirement system.
“I am concerned about touching (those) funds,” he said.
Hokama said it was difficult to comment on Lingle’s proposals when they lack detail.
“I’m looking for some flesh on the bones,” he said.
Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.
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