2,900 acres of Central Oahu will be preserved by the state
The state has acquired land in Central Oahu that officials say will help protect a critical watershed, open up the area to recreation and stave off potential development.
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The state has acquired nearly 2,900 acres of land in Central Oahu from Dole Food Co., closing on a $15.2 million deal that conservation officials say will help protect a critical watershed, open up the area to recreation and stave off potential development.
The purchase of the Helemano Wilderness Recreation Area is also expected to help Kawailoa Wind, which provided partial funding for the project, assuage regulatory concerns about the number of Hawaiian hoary bats its North Shore wind turbines have been harming or killing.
“This is just a terrific win for our community and the environment,” said Gov. David Ige at a press conference Thursday announcing the acquisition. “As you know, the watersheds and forests are the very foundation of our lives in these islands. It’s the source of our fresh water, and without them we wouldn’t be able to live here.”
Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources had been working to acquire the land since Dole listed it among 20,000 acres that were for sale in 2013.
“It’s a central location, very accessible, and it provides a lot of outdoor recreation and conservation management capability right in the middle of Oahu,” said Suzanne Case, DLNR chairwoman.
The acquisition will ensure access to the Poamoho Ridge Trail, which leads to the summit of the Koolau Mountains, and enhance the public’s ability to hike, camp and hunt in the area, said Case. DLNR also plans to reforest portions of the land with native trees and vegetation, which will help protect the watershed, and potentially produce products such as koa and sandalwood for sale.
The area extends through an important watershed that helps recharge the Central Oahu aquifer, which provides water to one-third of Oahu’s residents in communities from Pearl Harbor to the North Shore, according to DLNR.
Funding for the purchase came from the state’s Legacy Land Conservation Fund, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Legacy Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Plan, the Pittman-
Robertson Fund, the Navy and Kawailoa Wind. The land was appraised at $16.56 million.
The deal was facilitated by The Trust for Public Land Hawaii, which purchased the property and then conveyed it to the state.
“We would hit little bumps. We were stuck at
$9 million for quite a while,” said Stephen Rafferty, project manager for the land trust. “Then the Navy came through, and then Kawailoa is what put us over so we could close.”
The tract includes conservation land and fallow agricultural fields where pineapple was grown. Rafferty said that a portion of the land that is flat and has beautiful views was particularly vulnerable to the development of homes if acquired by another buyer.
Kawailoa Wind, which operates the state’s largest wind farm, contributed $2.75 million to the purchase as part of its efforts to make up for higher-
than-expected numbers of Hawaiian hoary bats that have been harmed or killed by its 30 wind turbines. The wind project, which began operating in November 2012, is permitted to harm or kill 60 of the endangered bats over a span of 20 years, according to “take” permits granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and DLNR. However, the wind farm has already exceeded that, according to a proposed amendment to its habitat conservation plan. The wind company is seeking to increase its take to 265 bats, which would include the 60 that it’s already allowed.
The acquisition of the
Helemano Wilderness Recreation Area is expected to help protect and restore bat habitat, offsetting the harm done by the wind farm’s turbines, according to the company.
In addition to persevering habitat for the hoary bat — which since 2015 has been Hawaii’s official state mammal — the project is expected to help protect endangered birds and more than 20 federally listed plant and animal species.