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Bill would have state buy Turtle Bay land

Two Senate panels approve a measure that would urge the governor to negotiate a deal

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 05:41 p.m. HST, Feb 28, 2013

Hawaii senators are moving forward with a bill to direct the governor to purchase land owned by Turtle Bay Hotel and Resort on the North Shore.

Lawmakers say that Hawaii governors have sought to acquire the land for years, but that something needs to be done to speed up the process.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor and the Committee on Ways and Means approved a bill Wednesday that would direct the governor to continue negotiations for the property. The committees removed a highly criticized provision that would have allowed the state to use eminent domain.

The bill’s supporters include hundreds of individuals and grass-roots organizations who say that government action is necessary to protect Oahu’s North Shore from turning into another Waikiki.

Many are worried about how the hotel’s planned expansion could affect the rural area and want to “keep the country country.”

But opposition to the proposal from union members and the Turtle Bay company has been loud.

Maria Falevai, a housekeeper at Turtle Bay, was one of dozens of hotel employees and others who flocked to the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest the bill.

Falevai said she’s worried about what the bill could mean for the availability of jobs on the North Shore. She said that before starting at Turtle Bay four years ago, she used to have to travel for hours by bus to get to Kalihi for work.

“I had to leave at 4 a.m. and take two buses,” Falevai said. “Sometimes I wouldn’t get home until 9 p.m. and my kids wouldn’t even see me.”

Danna Holck, general manager of the hotel, said the company provides important jobs and housing for North Shore residents.

The company provided transportation to bring employees and other community members to the Capitol to make their voices heard, she said.

But the company’s strong presence became a sore point during the Wednesday hearing on the bill.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee told hearing attendees that he had been surprised and put off by how opponents acted when the bill was considered Friday. Opponents wearing matching T-shirts had stood up in unison to face lawmakers when the bill’s title was announced.

“Let me be clear: This isn’t Aloha Stadium,” Hee said. “This isn’t a neighborhood board meeting. This is the Senate.”

Holck said the opponents had simply been showing solidarity against the bill. Sen. Sam Slom agreed.

“Certainly decorum is important, but democracy is also important,” said Slom, who voted against the measure.

Several other senators also opposed the bill or voted with reservations. Both Hee and Senate Ways and Means Chairman David Ige voted in favor of the bill.

The bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

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