Turtle Bay Resort has settled a lawsuit with Keep the North Shore Country, bringing the resort one step closer to completing its $48.5 million conservation easement.

Keep the North Shore Country filed the lawsuit in December 2013 challenging the resort’s latest environmental impact statement detailing its plans to expand on the North Shore.

Last spring, the resort agreed to preserve 665 acres in perpetuity in a $48.5 million agreement with the state, city and Trust for Public Lands.

The easement means that the resort will scale back its expansion plans by building no more than two hotels with 625 rooms and up to 100 homes.

Despite securing funding last year, it’s taking longer than expected to finalize the deal. In addition to Keep the North Shore Country, two separate lawsuits by the environmental group the Sierra Club and the union Unite Here Local 5 are pending.

Turtle Bay Resort North Shore of Oahu. 12.18.13

Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Sen. Gil Riviere, a director at Keep the North Shore Country, said the organization decided to settle its case in order to help ensure that the conservation easement is completed. The settlement is contingent on the easement getting resolved by Sept. 1 this year.

“It’s taking longer to figure out the conservation easement than anyone imagined,” Riviere said, noting the process has included obtaining appraisals and answering questions such as how many parking spaces are allowed. “The actual nitty gritty of what the conservation easement encompasses is still not nailed down yet.”

The resort still technically has city approval to build up to 3,500 units, although it has promised not to proceed with any building plans for three years, Riviere said.

The Senate money committee is considering a bill Wednesday that would extend the $40 million in state funding for the conservation easement. The funding is currently scheduled to lapse in June.

Riviere said he likes the measure, Senate Bill 284, in part because it clarifies that the Department of Land and Natural Resources will be in charge of the land.

The measure allows the DLNR to issue $40 million in revenue bonds to pay for the conservation easement and put it in a special fund. Revenue from hotel taxes would cover the $3 million cost of debt service on the bonds and additional expenses related to issuing the bonds.

The settlement with Keep the North Shore Country also requires Turtle Bay Resort to spend money to help conserve threatened or endangered species and support a predator control program.

“Resolving this lawsuit is a victory for the entire North Shore as it brings the community a big step closer to realizing the lifelong benefits of the conservation easement for all to appreciate,” said Drew Stotesbury, CEO of Turtle Bay Resort, in a statement. “Treasured open space will be preserved and a framework established that perpetuates land stewardship, environmental sustainability, and cultural sensitivity, while substantially reducing the scope of Turtle Bay’s development plans. Everyone wins.”

Eric Gill from Unite Here Local 5, a union representing service workers, said that the organization is in the process of figuring out its own settlement with Turtle Bay Resort.

He said the conservation easement was a breakthrough that addressed concerns related to the development footprint. Now, the group is trying to address concerns about employment in its potential settlement.

“Overall, we’re optimistic,” Gill said.

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