Conservation group pushes to preserve 469 acres of North Shore ag land

Jade Eckardt

HALEIWA—In an effort to preserve agricultural land on Oahu, the North Shore Community Land Trust (NSCLT) and the Trust for Public Land are working with the owners of the Turtle Bay Resort to place a conservation easement on approximately 469 acres of agricultural land on the mauka side of Kamehameha Highway, directly across from the resort.

Under the proposed easement, the property would remain agriculture land permanently under a legally binding agreement between the land owner and the conservation organization, and could never be rezoned, subdivided, or developed.

NSCLT and the Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit land conservation organization, are working with the landowners to secure funding for the easement.

The Trust for Public Land purchased the 1,129 acre parcel of North Shore land, known as Pupukea-Paumalu, from the Obayashi Corporation in June 2007 with the intent of preventing the development of private estates, subdivisions, and the sewage plant originally intended for the property. The NSCLT assisted the trust in fundraising for the purchase price and in obtaining community input for planning the future of the property. NSCLT is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect, steward, and enhance the natural landscapes, cultural heritage, and rural character of ahupuaa from Kahuku Point to Kaena.

According to the NSCLT, the land has access to irrigation and roads and is currently being farmed on by approximately 15 to 20 small farmers who sell a portion of their produce in the fruit stands bordering the property and Kamehameha Highway.

Lea Hong, Hawaii Director of the Trust for Public Land, said the 469 acre parcel is owned by Turtle Bay Mauka Lands, LLC, a company managed by Turtle Bay Resort Holdings.

“The landowners are voluntarily giving up the development rights,” Hong said on Wednesday.

Adam Borrello, chairperson at NSCLT, called the Turtle Bay mauka ag lands “an important part of the North Shore community’s long-standing efforts to support sustainable agriculture and maintain the North Shore’s rural and agricultural sense of place.”

Doug Cole, NSCLT’s executive director, said the trust has applied for funding for the project from three different agencies.

The State Legacy Land Conservation Program (LLCP), which provides grants to local organizations and agencies seeking to purchase and protect lands that offer valuable resources, held a hearing regarding the applications they received for funding this year. According to Cole, the LLCP has received five applications this year for conservation easement funding, two from Hawaii Island, one from Maui, and two for Oahu. Hong said the LLCP ranked the Turtle Bay property project fourth out of the five applications, and recommended the project for funding.

Hong said the Turle Bay project was also recommended for funding by the City’s Clean Water and Natural Lands Commission. The commission advises the City Council on the use and expenditure of the Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund, which disperses real property tax revenues set aside for conservation purposes.

“On a federal level we applied for funding from the Farm and Ranch Land Protections Program,” Hong said.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program works with existing programs and partners with state, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land from landowners. The program provides up to 50 percent of the fair market easement value of the conservation easement, but at the time of publication the NSCLT had not heard if the project has been approved.

“Things look promising, although there is no guarantee for funding,” Cole said. Cole explained that purchasing easement and development rights are a lower price than purchasing a fee simple parcel of land.

Hong and Cole both said if funding is approved, it could take one to two years to complete the process. When the process is completed, the NSCLT will hold title to the easement, and Turtle Bay Resort will still hold title to the property.

“We work with land owners who are willing to conserve property,” Cole said. “We try to educate owners on conservation, and the owners of this property expressed interest in the easement. The goal is not to own the 469 acres, just the preservation rights. We want to see it farmed in perpetuity.”