Legislators give final approval to Turtle Bay land deal

Legislators give final approval to Turtle Bay land deal

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers introduced a total of 2,312 bills in both the House and the Senate this year -- of those only 245 passed.  Among them are measures to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, protect our kupuna, combat invasive species and prepare for climate change.

In the final hours on the last day of session Thursday, the State House also approved a bill that will provide $40 million to limit development at the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's north shore.

The Turtle Bay coastline is now part of a conservation easement.  While the resort owns the land, it has given up its rights to develop on it under a deal reached with Governor Abercrombie.

"It was a challenge, but everything was quite clear -- you had 650 some acres that are pristine and I think the choice was made to keep it undeveloped forever," explained Speaker of the House Joseph Souki.

The bill passed 49 to 2 after passionate discussion from several lawmakers who expressed support for the intent of the bill but questioned it's hasty approval and lack of thorough discussion.

"It puts every single member -- all 76 of us -- in a very terrible position off a Devil's bargain.  You win on one hand, you lose on another hand.  Policy good.  Process bad," Representative Marcus Oshiro said on the floor. He voted yes with reservations, but not before first questioning whether the Hawai'i constitution's requirement that each bill receive three readings in each chamber on separate days was truly followed.

Representative Derek Kawakami also raised concerns about the precedence that could be set.

"When these developers are at the table going through various agencies and commissions and county councils, Mr. Speaker, the diligent thing that should have been done is that these conservation easements should be conditioned in -- that is the right thing to do," Rep. Kawakami said during his address.  "I'd like to put the various agencies and county councils on notice that they have to have the vision to listen to the people to identify these special places that they would like to preserve and protect, so that they're not coming to the Legislature now and asking us to fix the problems of the past."

While most legislators agreed the process was flawed, those who stood in strong support said they felt the end justified the means.

"Do we take a chance of an opportunity to preserve a precious piece of coastline forever to stop the wheels of development to give the community the time to secure this asset?  Or do we let this opportunity slip like sand through our fingers?" asked Representative Angus McKelvey who voted yes.

"For years North Shore development has pittied local communities against each other, here's our chance to keep the country country once and for all," said Representative Kaniela Ing.

Supporters of the measure cheered when the final vote was read.

"It's important to speak out for what you care about and it's important to always be thinking about future generations because that's what this is really about," said Doug Cole, the Executive Director of the North Shore Community Land Trust.

Lawmakers say there's still a chance the bill's approval process will be challenged in court.

"Could it wait til next year?  It could have. However, it was a statement made by the Legislature to say that this issue had been around for a long time and that it was important to the people of Hawai'i," said Senate President Donna Mercado Kim.

It now goes to Gov. Abercrombie who is expected to sign the bill into law.

Gov. Abercrombie released the following statement:

"This vote marks the culmination of years of effort to secure the future of the North Shore. I'm very pleased my administration was able to play a positive role in bringing the Turtle Bay issue to a successful conclusion."

Drew Stotesbury, CEO of Turtle Bay Resort, issued the following statement in response to the Hawai'i State Legislature's funding of the conservation easement to preserve in perpetuity 665.8 acres of the Resort's undeveloped North Shore land.

"Like everyone on the North Shore, we are thrilled that the funding of this historic agreement has been approved and thank our lawmakers for supporting this quest to preserve treasured open space. This conservation easement is a successful resolution achieved through the collective efforts of the State, City, North Shore community groups, and Turtle Bay Resort working toward a common goal."

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