Business Turtle Bay deal thrown a lifeline By Andrew Gomes March 26, 2015 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! COURTESY TURTLE BAY RESORTA wider view shows another section of the roof with a wave pattern made of river rocks Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. More than a year’s worth of work to keep development off a big piece of Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore avoided a serious setback Wednesday after receiving a life-sustaining vote at the state Legislature. A bill that provides necessary extra time for the state to pay the resort’s owner to reduce development and expand public use on much of the area sailed forward with the vote after hitting a patch of uncertainty last week. The House Water and Land Committee passed an amended version of Senate Bill 284 with a 9-0 vote after a quick recitation of overwhelming public testimony that extends a June 30 deadline for the state to pay $40 million or so to protect about 665 acres at Turtle Bay from hotel and residential development. "We’re relieved it’s moving," said Lea Hong, state director for The Trust for Public Lands, which is helping the state purchase a conservation easement that protects the land in perpetuity. June 30 is the deadline to sell $40 million in revenue bonds for the state’s share of a tentative $48.5 million easement purchase that also involves the city and the Trust for Public Land chipping in $5 million and $3.5 million, respectively. The state, however, wasn’t going to meet its deadline in part because the transition in administrative leaders after the November election of Gov. David Ige created some delay in negotiating final details of the easement. After realizing the problem, Ige’s administration got an extension provision inserted into an unrelated bill, SB 284, last month without any public hearing. That gave some lawmakers pause, and the House Tourism Committee decided to defer the bill last week, putting it in danger of dying. Some lawmakers looked at SB 284 as potentially a way to examine and reconsider the easement purchase, which was hastily arranged without a single public hearing in the waning moments of last year’s legislative session. Wednesday’s hearing, which was only scheduled Tuesday after being yanked from the Tourism Committee by House leadership, showed that lots of public support exists for the easement deal. Fifteen organizations presented supportive written testimony, including groups that typically advocate for natural resource preservation as well as construction-related entities such as the Hawaii Construction Alliance and Pacific Resource Partnership. About 50 individuals also submitted written testimony urging the bill’s passage. Kaneohe resident Lynette Williams urged the committee to preserve what she called "priceless" lands for future generations. "These natural lands could be lost forever unless we take action now to preserve these irreplaceable treasures," she said in written testimony. "Residents, visitors and our rare native wildlife will all benefit from the protection of this very special part of Oahu." Neighbor island resident Christine Davis testified that she would likely stop coming to Oahu on vacation if SB 284 didn’t pass. Bill Lafferty from California wrote that when he visits the North Shore, Kawela Bay is his favorite spot — "from the bay itself, to the trails, to those enormous trees, there’s nothing quite like it. I would love for you guys to keep it that way!" Under the proposed conservation easement, 650 homes approved for development, including 225 fronting Kawela Bay, would not be built. And no development would happen on about 665 acres, including 70 acres fronting Kawela Bay and almost 600 acres largely occupied by Turtle Bay’s two golf courses. The resort still would be permitted to add two hotels with a combined 625 rooms, and 100 homes on about 150 acres fronting the ocean on opposing sides of the existing 443-room Turtle Bay hotel. At Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Feki Pouha (R, Waialua-Kahuku-Waiahole) asked Carty Chang, interim chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, where he would put the importance of the pending action on a scale of 1 to 10. Chang responded: "Unquestionably, it would be a 10." Rep. Ryan Yamane, Water and Land Committee chairman, took the opportunity to recommend amendments to the bill that were passed, including one aimed at making it easier and less expensive to raise the $40 million. SB 284 now calls for taking the $40 million from general obligation bond proceeds already available to the state as part of a $1 billion bond sale late last year. That’s a change from last year’s law that calls for the Hawaii Tourism Authority to sell revenue bonds. In both cases, the bond debt would be repaid using about $3 million a year in savings from refinancing debt on the Hawaii Convention Center. Last year’s law required the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which services convention center debt using hotel room tax revenue, to float the revenue bonds. Another amendment to SB 284 creates a new deadline — Dec. 31 — to complete the easement purchase. This timetable is doable, according to officials from Turtle Bay and the state Department of the Attorney General involved in negotiating final easement details. Attorney General Doug Chin told Yamane he feels they are "weeks away" from finalizing easement details. Scott McCormack, vice president of real estate for Turtle Bay manager Replay Resorts Inc., said that’s a fair assessment. Turtle Bay’s own goal for completing the easement deal is Sept. 1. One other item attached to the bill unrelated to Turtle Bay revives a proposal to study an exchange of land whereby the state would swap the site of Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi for farmland from Dole Food Co. on the North Shore. Another bill proposing the land exchange study, Senate Bill 1374, died last week after the Water and Land Committee took no action on it. If SB 284 had not been passed Wednesday by the committee, it would not have been able to advance. SB 284 now heads to the House Finance Committee. If passed by that committee and the full House, the bill would still need to be agreed upon in a House-Senate conference committee before a vote by all lawmakers. Previous Story Toyota outlines 'architecture' to grow after recall lull Next Story New Samsung, HTC phones coming April 10 in U.S.