LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council yesterday approved a resolution to support the federal acquisition of an additional 219 acres for the expansion of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
During a meeting held at the historic County Building, council members praised U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-rural O‘ahu-Neighbor Islands, for submitting a bill to Congress to acquire the land to protect endangered Hawaiian birds and enhance the existing, 203-acre federal refuge.
Acquisition of new lands would protect one of Kaua‘i’s greatest natural resources, and would deter development in the still-rural areas of Kilauea, audience members said at the meeting.
The legislators also thanked members of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association and other residents for initiating efforts to try to nearly double the size of the refuge, described as a choice visitor attraction and a North Shore asset.
Council Chairman Kaipo Asing drew applause from residents at the meeting when he stressed efforts should be made to maintain and enhance public beach access to any lands added to the refuge.
“The conservation of the area is important, but we want people to be able to get there,” Asing said.
The acquisition of the land would protect access to a resource at a time when more access is being lost as more large properties are being bought and new landowners, citing liability reasons, have called for enforcement of trespassing laws.
On Thursday, Case testified before the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, in support of his bill, H.R. 2619, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge Expansion Act of 2003.
The bill would allow the expansion of the 203-acre refuge by an additional 219 acres. Once the expansion is approved, Case said, the land would be acquired through donation, land swap, or purchase.
Congressional action on the bill is expected before the end of the year.
The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-urban O‘ahu.
But the council has “missed the train,” by sending its resolution to the congressional subcommittee at this point, contended Kapa‘a resident Richard Stauber. “What is the point of doing that now?” he asked during a break in the meeting. “They (subcommittee members) have already made up their minds.”
Federal legislators set a Tuesday deadline for receiving faxed testimony, Stauber said.
Had Kauaians been made aware that they could have sent testimony earlier, they could have galvanized more public support for Case’s bill, Stauber said.
Councilman Jay Furfaro said he has been in touch with Case’s staff and had been assured the resolution would be accepted by the congressional subcommittee.
“It is an ongoing issue,” said councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, stressing it was important the resolution be sent to the Congress.
The congressional subcommittee will continue to receive written testimony even though the Tuesday deadline has passed, audience members were told.
Kilauea resident Claire Mortimer urged Kauaians to contact family members and friends in other states to lobby their congress members to support Case’s bill.
She said Case is new to Congress and that he would probably need a “stack of e-mails and faxes” to show his colleagues why his bill has merit.
The land being sought includes lands adjacent to the Kilauea River valley from Kilauea Falls to the estuary where the river drains into the ocean. The authorization also includes the lands surrounding an area commonly known as Rock Quarry Beach.
Case cited the importance of protecting the lands from development because they provide habitat for endangered native birds and stream life, and to preserve the natural beauty and rural quality of the Kilauea coastal area.
Case testified the Kilauea community is showing strong support for protection of the area.
The congressman urged the subcommittee to authorize expansion of the full acreage now so work could begin on strategies to acquire the land.
He said that if action is not taken now, the land could be irretrievably lost to developers.
Case provided the subcommittee letters of support from Mayor Bryan Baptiste, state Sen. Gary Hooser, state Reps. Hermina Morita and Ezra Kanoho, Yukimura, Councilmember Jay Furfaro, the Kilauea Neighborhood Association, the Kaua‘i Public Land Trust, the Kilauea Point Natural History Association and the Hawai‘i Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Case also said he has received about 100 letters in favor of the bill, most arriving in the past few days, primarily from Kilauea residents.
During the council meeting, Dr. Krishna Kumar applauded Case’s bill and the council resolution. He noted that of five endangered Hawaiian birds found on Kaua‘i, only the Nene currently lives at the existing Kilauea refuge.
The other four endangered Hawaiian birds — Hawaiian duck, Hawaiian hoot, Hawaiian moorhen and the Hawaiian stilt — currently live on the land proposed for acquisition and that acquisition of the property will help perpetuate those bird species.
“It is necessary that we recognize the endangered birds … If we don’t do anything, they will be extinct tomorrow,” Dr. Kumar said.
Dr. Gary Blaich, a longtime resident of the North Shore, thanked the council for crafting “an excellent resolution” and thanked Yukimura and Furfaro for their strong support for the measure.
The expansion of the refuge is important for the protection of ancient burial sites, a lo‘i system for the cultivation of taro and rice and recreational uses of the area, Blaich said. “It is just a wonderful area,” he said.
Mortimer, who owns a home above Kilauea valley, in which is located the lands proposed for acquisition, said there was unanimous support in Kilauea for the expansion of the refuge.
“This is exactly how I would like my tax dollars spent,” said Mortimer, referring to federal funds that are likely to be used for the expansion of the refuge.
West Kaua‘i resident Bruce Pleas said the larger refuge would provide additional home sites for albatrosses.
Up until a year ago, the birds lived and bred in the Nohili Ditch in Mana, but they have been moved elsewhere on the island with the expansion of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system at the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana, Pleas said.
Yukimura said the current refuge is a haven “for all kinds of wildlife and is a place for people to experience wildlife.”
“The addition will be a wonderful way to expand a tremendous resource,” she said. Yukimura thanked the Kilauea residents for their support in continuing with past efforts to enlarge the refuge.
The existing refuge was established in 1985 with 31 acres once managed by the National Lighthouse Service.
The major expansion of the refuge came in March 1988 when the Kilauea Neighborhood Association and the Crater Hill Coalition ceremonially transferred coastal lands known as Crater Hill and Mokulea Point to the federal government.
The 37 acres at Mokulea Point were added to the refuge with $1.6 million in federal funds secured by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai‘i.
Yukimura supported the expansion of the refuge when she sat on the council in 1988 and served as mayor from 1988 to 1994.
The centerpiece of the refuge is Kilauea Point, a peninsula that juts out to sea and is topped by the historic Kilauea Lighthouse, dedicated in 1913.
Staff Writer Lester Chang may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.