Hawaii senators have scheduled a last-minute public hearing Wednesday on a proposed resolution that calls on the Department of Land and Natural Resources to “engage in earnest negotiations” for the state to acquire nearly 8,000 acres in south Kona.

The late Sen. Gil Kahele had wanted the state to preserve the pristine Kapua lands, which are zoned for agriculture and conservation. His son, Kai Kahele, picked up that baton after being appointed to fill his father’s seat in February.

Senators pushed a bill that would have given the DLNR money to negotiate a deal with the land owners — The Resort Group — and take care of the property. It cleared the Senate, and the House passed an amended version, but the two chambers were unable to agree on the final language and the bill died last week.

Hawaii senators are considering a resolution Wednesday concerning the acquisition of Kapua lands on the Big Island.
Hawaii senators are considering a resolution Wednesday concerning the acquisition of Kapua lands on the Big Island. Courtesy: The Nature Conservancy

The original version of the bill said the property was slated for development, but that language was yanked in later drafts.

The four parcels were valued at $13.9 million in 2007, according to DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, who told lawmakers the department is in the process of updating that appraisal. The DLNR supports acquiring the property, and has been talking to the Trust of Public Land about it.

Case told lawmakers the department would need $1.6 million to address immediate management needs, such as fencing to block out invasive goats, and $500,000 annually for the next decade to manage the area.

The proposed resolution is non-binding and has no appropriation.

It’s rare for lawmakers to schedule a public hearing on a measure during the last week of session. Sine die (the end of session) is Thursday. Usually, this week is just focused on two last floor sessions for the House and Senate to give final approval to bills and possibly some amendments.

The resolution describes the makai lands of Kapua as a “scenic wonder with breathtaking shoreline views,” sparsely populated and full of “significant historical, archaeological, and cultural resources, including a holua slide, ancient coastal trail, village sites, and superb biological resources including native dryland forests and Native Hawaiian plants.”

Getting the measure approved in time for a final vote Thursday will take some legislative maneuvering, including a “gut and replace” step in which the language is swapped out for that in another bill. Senators are planning to take a resolution about Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, delete all its contents and replace them with the resolution about Kapua.

The Water, Land, and Agriculture Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Gabbard, is set to hear the proposed resolution at 11 a.m. Wednesday in conference room 225 at the Capitol.

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