Hawaii’s U.S. House delegation introduced legislation today that could lead to the creation of the first National Heritage Areas in the state and include Kaena Point on Oahu and a “pristine” South Kona coastal area on Hawaii island.
Reps. Kai Kahele and Ed Case are calling for a feasibility study conducted by the secretary of the interior to examine the designation. Case is reintroducing the measure under a Joe Biden administration after he sought a similar designation for Kaena Point during the previous session of Congress.
The legislation would give the Interior Department three years after funding is provided to report back on the results of the study.
Since the designation of the nation’s first National Heritage Area in 1984, there are now 55 NHAs nationally, but none in the state of Hawaii, according to a joint release from the lawmakers.
Kahele’s measure focuses on the South Kona coastal area between Ka Lae and Honomalino Bay.
“The South Kona coastline has some of the most unique historical, cultural, and archaeological features on the planet,” Kahele said in the release. “This bill can ensure the conservation and preservation of this area in its current natural state and begin the federal process of a National Heritage Area designation.”
The undeveloped area of Kaena Point from Makua to Waialua could receive designation under the effort made by Case.
The area is the site of the last intact sand dune ecosystem in Hawaii and is said to be named after a sibling of the Hawaiian goddess Pele, the release said. Kaena Point also includes a leina ka ‘uhane, “an important recognized cultural site that, according to some Hawaiian traditions, is where the souls of the deceased leapt into the next plane of existence.”
Kaena Point also is home to protected species including Laysan albatrosses, wedge-tailed shearwaters, monk seals and “fragile” native plants.
“Kaena Point, largely state-owned, is the perfect candidate for a National Heritage Area in Hawaii given its truly unique cultural, historic and environmental heritage and qualities,” Case said.
He noted that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has already created a management plan for the Kaena Point Stewardship Area to protect one of the last few remaining and easily accessible wilderness areas on Oahu.
Kaena Point State Park already is the gateway to Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve at Oahu’s most northwestern point.
Kahele said that Kaena Point “holds a special place for many Native Hawaiians who visit the area for traditional cultural reasons, as well as non-Hawaiians who tour the area to learn about its significance. Establishing Kaena point as a National Heritage Area is long overdue.”
The designation offers federal assistance of joint efforts to manage the heritage areas “for specific protections and uses appropriate to each,” the joint release said.
The lawmakers said that any studies for South Kona and Kaena Point “would fully involve all engaged communities in charting the overall plan for protection and use of these unique parts of the rich heritage of our country.”
National Heritage Areas are coordinated by organizations that partner with the National Park Service on grassroots heritage conservation, recreation, and education efforts, according to the park service.
Heritage areas are not national park units. The park service said it does not assume ownership of land inside the boundary of each National Heritage Area. Nor does the NPS impose land use controls.
Rather, the park service said it partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to National Heritage Area coordinating entities.
The Congressional Research Service said fiscal year 2020 appropriations for NPS for assistance to heritage areas totaled $21.9 million.
For fiscal 2021, the Trump administration requested about $400,000 for administrative support and no funding for grantmaking purposes, the research service said in an August report.