LIHU‘E — The county’s Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund Commission will meet for the first time in almost a year on Thursday to discuss the potential acquisition of the Alakoko “Menehune” Fishpond.
The community-based nonprofit Malama Hule‘ia has leased a portion of the land over the last two years, clearing over 26 acres of invasive mangrove to restore the 600-year-old watershed while under a 20-year lease agreement to use one 55-acre parcel.
Their efforts were threatened earlier this year when the Honolulu-based Okada Trucking Co. Ltd., which owns the property, put up the 102-acre property up for sale for $3 million.
Malama Hule‘ia is working in conjunction with another conservation nonprofit, The Trust For Public Land, to secure the property.
The nonprofits, in written testimony submitted to the commission, are urging the entity to prioritize the fishpond for acquisition.
“Our lease could be canceled after a sale to an outside party,” the group wrote. “But we see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase the fishpond, ensuring its preservation in perpetuity, providing a site for cultural and environmental education, enhancing Hawaiian cultural practices, providing food for our community, and creating additional habitat for Hawaiian bird and aquatic species.”
The landowners, Malama Hule‘ia and The Trust for Public Land said are willing to sell the property “if an acceptable price and terms can be reached.”
“For the first time since this Commission has recommended Alakoko Fishpond as a priority project, we have a willing seller, but we need to move quickly to raise the public funding before the property is sold on the open market,” they wrote.
The fishpond has been on the commission’s recommended list of priority projects since 2015, according to the letter.
“Prior to that, since at least 2007, the Commission has Alakoko Fishpond on its list of ‘secondary recommendations for future action should opportunities for success improve,’” the letter states. “We appreciate the Commission’s prioritization of Alakoko Fishpond for acquisition and protection all these years. We are coming to you again to request your continued support.”
Last month, the Kaua‘i County Council met in a special executive session with the Office of the County Attorney to discuss the utilization of the Public Access, Open Space, Natural Resources Preservation Fund for land-conservation purposes, which this commission has the authority to recommend and prioritize items on the preservation list.
There is approximately $2.5 million in this fund, and an estimated $780,000 to come in next fiscal year, which begins in July, county Finance Director Reiko Matsuyama reported in January.
Council Vice Chair Mason Chock and councilmember Luke Evslin both resigned from the Malama Hule‘ia board and issued recusals from council discussions.
The commission has been suspended since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also on the agenda is the approval of a January 2020 meeting and the nomination and appointment of an at-large appointee.
A portion of the land is leased to Malama Hule‘ia to remove 26 acres of mangrove and restore 14-acres of wetlands with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Some of the goals the nonprofit include preserving the Loko I‘a, continue education programs and revitalize the watershed and ecosystem of the fishpond.
The commission will meet on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. via teleconference, which can be accessed by calling 1-469-848-0234 and using Conference ID: 807 885 981#. Written testimony will be accepted to email@example.com through Wednesday at 9 a.m.