VIDEO: Community Protest Over Ka’ehu Wetland Auction
By Wendy Osher
A group of concerned community members gathered at the state courthouse on Maui Wednesday (June 8, 2011) to show unity in protecting the Ka’ehu coastline from development.
The 63.7-acre wetland parcel along Waiehu Beach Road in Paukukalo, was put up for judicial foreclosure auction today to the highest bidder.
Although the County of Maui already recommended approval of $1.7 million for the negotiated purchase of the parcel, demonstrators say the auction was necessary to settle unresolved issues surrounding the fair market value of the property.
Sign-wavers showed up in the hopes of discouraging any potential bids from prospective developers and secure the property in perpetuity as open space, as well as for continued use by cultural groups.
“This showing today by the community really sends a message loud and clear that this area is inappropriate for development,” said Laura H. E. Ka’akua, Native Lands Field Representative at the Trust for Public Land–a national non-profit land trust organization.
“There have been many speculative developers who have wanted to do a number of different developments down at Ka’ehu,” said Ka’akua. “The community has opposed all of them because this area is such a sacred, special place that is regularly used by Native Hawaiian practitioners, as well as the entire Maui County for recreational uses.”
“Ka’ehu is the last open space bay on that whole side of the island,” said Hōkūlani Holt, President Kauahea Inc., a non-profit organization that supports Hawaiian arts, culture and spiritual practices.
What also makes it important, Holt said, “is it has a lot of cultural plants, cultural uses, that are associated with the place. It’s a wetland area, and we anticipate that there’s also going to be burials in the area.”
Holt, who is also a well known cultural practitioner on Maui, said it is important that Ka’ehu is kept for the community to be used basically as open space, “but also to maintain its cultural integrity, rather than having homes or buildings developed on it.”
A representative from Chevy Chase Bank offered the $820,163.70 winning – and only – bid on behalf of the lender/creditor at today’s auction.
Ka’akua said the sign-wavers who showed up were happy that there were no developers that bid today, however, the group is not yet in the clear.
The winning bid is subject to confirmation before the court at a hearing that has yet to be scheduled. At that confirmation hearing, other interested bidders may re-open the bidding if, in the discretion of the court, they area able to make an opening bid of at least 105% of the winning bid that was made today.
“The community, I imagine, as well as the Trust for Public Land and Maui County, will continue to be involved later on to try to acquire the property for the benefit of the Maui Community,” said Ka’akua.
The Trust for Public Land has partnered with Maui County in the past to protect Mu’ole’a Point in East Maui, and other lands across the state. “All of our projects are community driven,” said Ka’akua.
The trust was initially approached by Neighborhood Place of Wailuku for assistance in protecting the property. For the past seven years, the agency has been leasing five acres of the property from the previous owner to offer free family and cultural strengthening activities, a ROPES Challenge Course and other outdoor experiential programs for youth and families.
“They’ve been running wonderful family strengthening programs down at Ka’ehu for a number of years now. They approached us because they wanted the community to be able to come down to Ka’ehu and use it and be able to continue those Native Hawaiian cultural practices as well as the recreational practices,” said Ka’akua.
After partnering with Neighborhood Place of Wailuku, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands was approached, since Paukukalo Hawaiian Homes is right across the street, and Kau’a’hea Inc. is now involved as well.
“We will continue now to negotiate directly with the creditor and try to work out the best price possible for Maui County,” said Ka’akua.
“Today was a small victory, and there’s more work to be done in the future to secure this property so that Maui County can enjoy it in perpetuity,” said Ka’akua.