Hawaii State Legacy Land Commission Recommends Properties for 2019 Funding

When you sell real estate in Hawaiʻi, a line item on the sellerʻs statement will be “conveyance tax.” Have you ever wondered what those taxes are used for?

The State of Hawaii dedicates a portion of its annual revenue from real estate conveyance taxes to the Land Conservation Fund. Each year, the State Legislature provides the Legacy Land Conservation Program with some-not all–of the money held in the Fund. The Legacy Land Conservation Program distributes this money through a competitive grants program designed for purchasing land and conservation easements.

Nine applications for the current fiscal year were reviewed by the Legacy Land Conservation Commission at a two-day meeting in December. I attended in support of the County of Hawaiʻi, which requested matching funds for public purchase of my 92-acre listing at Kapanaia, North Kohala.

Hawaii State Legacy Land Commission hears testimony on the significance of Kapanaʻia Bay.

A Variety of Conservation Requests from Across the State of Hawaiʻi

By statute, the Legacy Land Conservation grants can be for the protection of the following resources:

  • Habitat
  • Coastal areas
  • Culturally or historically significant lands
  • Agricultural lands
  • Open spaces
  • Natural areas
  • Watershed
  • Parks and recreational areas

All of those objectives were reflected in the projects submitted to the Commission for review in 2018. Four of the projects were submitted by the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DLNR), which also provides staff support for the Commission. Other applicants included Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and two private non-profits.

Presentation of the applications began with reports on site visits that had been made by groups of commissioners. The second day included presentations by the applicant organizations and public testimony.

Member of state legacy land commission (left) with Kohala community representatives on a site visit.

The nine commissioners represent all four counties (Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, Kauai and Maui County, including a commissioner from Molokaʻi) and have qualifications that include relevant academic/scientific degrees, Hawaiian cultural expertise, or experience in land or habitat conservation organizations. Their discussion was robust and open-minded with commissioners changing their rankings on the fly as they listened to other commissionersʻ arguments.

Their criteria for review and prioritization included: significance of the conservation values; readiness or “ripeness” meaning funding matches and seller/landowner support in place; public benefit relative to the amount of public dollars invested; threat or urgency (e.g. are coastal environments under more threat of development than forest environments?); the amount of acreage relative to the expenditure i.e. “bang for buck.”

Top ranking went to acquire Pia Valley, a pristine ridgetop parcel on Oʻahuʻs Koʻolau Mountains, which for only $65,000 was a clear winner on “bang for buck.”

Our Kohala group was gratified that the Commission ranked Kapanaʻia second, awarding the full request of $1,452,000 to match the Countyʻs funds towards the $2,900,000 purchase price.

Third in the rankings were parcels at Mokae and Makaʻalae presented by Ke Ao Haliʻi (Save the Hana Coast). Much as Kapanaia represents one parcel in a stretch of coastline being preserved as Kula Iwi O Kamehameha in North Kohala, these parcels are but a portion of 29 lots along 3.2 miles of coastline that the Hana group is working to preserve for their significant environmental and cultural resources.

Members of Save the Hana Coast present to State Legacy Land Commission: “Our endangered species is the Hawaiʻian if you donʻt keep the connection to the land and the ocean.”

Ceiling on the Amount the Legacy Land Commission can Award

A fourth project funded was over 900 acres from Oahuʻs Pali Lookout stretching down to loʻi (taro patches) at Kāneʻohe.

Final project ranking after two hard days’ work by the State Legacy Land Commission and staff.

Sadly, the remaining projects, all of which met the criteria and were worthy of funding, could not be approved because only $4.4 million was available to the commission to allocate. Whatʻs crazy in the eyes of this Director of Conservation and Legacy Lands is that the actual amount that should be available is three times this figure. Not only has the legislature seen fit to cap the award amount well below the funds available, but the $1.5 million in debt service on state financial instruments used in acquiring lands for preservation at Turtle Bay Resort on Oʻahu is taken from within the cap rather than above the line.

If you are a Hawaiʻi resident interested in serving on the State Legacy Land Conservation Commission, there are two current vacancies, and a third opening in July 2019. Information on applying is available on the stateʻs website.

And better yet, if you are interested in unfunded needs, like assisting the Nature Conservancy in acquiring conservation easements to preserve sandalwood reforestation on the Big Island, or helping secure a parcel on the market on Kauai that is critical to the Waipā Foundation, Iʻm happy to make introductions.

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