Waimea Valley

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Waimea Valley is located on the north shore of the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii.

Contents

History

The Waimea Valley is O'ahu's last intact ahupua'a (Hawaiian land division that stretches from the uplands to the sea), and was home to Hawaiian priests from at least the 11th century.

After Kamehameha the Great conquered O'ahu in 1797, he gave the valley to his adviser, high priest Hewahewa.

It remained in the hands of high priests until the Great Mahele, when crown lands were divided among the maka'ainana. The area turned into fishing and farming land in the 1800s, and was leased by a subsidiary of Castle & Cooke as a cattle ranch a century later.

The Bishop Corp. acquired the land in 1971, and under Charles Pietsch III, it opened its gates to the public in 1975. It went on to become O'ahu's third most popular tourist destination. Its 1974 permit application described its mission as creating a world-class botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary and protecting Hawaiian cultural sites.

At its peak in the late 1980s, the park saw 600,000 visitors a year. But attendance declined in the 1990s.

In 1996, the attraction was saved from the auction block by Christian Wolffer, a German whose group, Euro Investors, took on the $12 million Bank of Hawaii loan taken out by the Pietsch-owned Attractions Hawai'i.

Despite attempts to lure visitors with adventure attractions, attendance did not improve. [1]

Christian Wolffer: Waimea for sale

In 1996, New York investor Christian Wolffer, majority owner of Attractions Hawai'i and an affiliated financing company, acquired the Waimea Valley Adventure Park and Sea Life Park, out of the final stages of a foreclosure against a previous owner. Then in August 2000, Wolffer put Waimea Valley's 1,875 acre property up for sale for $25 million. Wolffer later lowered the price to $19 million.

Condemn and acquire

In October 2000, the Honolulu City Council adopted a resolution to acquire the property and place it under park designation on the North Shore Public Infrastructure Map.

In February 2001, the Council passes a capital improvement budget that includes $5.2 million for the purchase of the valley. Mayor Jeremy Harris sets aside $5.2 million in the city supplemental budget for the acquisition of Waimea Valley.

In April 2001, Wolffer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an effort to block the foreclosure and sale of Sea Life Park and Waimea Falls Park.

In June 2001 the Honolulu City Council approved a resolution by an 8-0 vote that allowed the city to begin eminent-domain proceedings to acquire the land for $5.2 million.

In February 2002, the city took possession of Waimea Valley as the first step in condemnation.

In June 2003, the National Audubon Society took over the operation of Waimea Falls Park, cutting some admission prices by two-thirds and launching a campaign to turn toward eco-tourism and away from entertainment. The Waimea park was operated by the National Audubon Society as Waimea Valley Audubon Center.

Split the Valley?

In November 2005, the Honolulu City Council considered an offer to settle the 4-year-old condemnation lawsuit over Waimea Valley. The settlement proposal includes the city keeping the current 300 acres of park including Waimea Falls. The balance of the the land would be retained by the owner and subdivided. This proposal saves the city from spending more than the $5.2 million in escrow on Waimea.

In a Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper article dated November 16, 2005 and entitled, Council considers offer to split up Waimea:

Part of the proposal appears to call for the back of the valley to be subdivided into eight parcels for development of about a half-dozen homes. Attractions Hawaii, owned by Wolffer, however, would have to obtain other government agency approvals. Under the proposal, part of the valley would be used by Attractions Hawaii as a ecological camp for tourists.

Councilman Charles Djou, chairman of the Council's Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, said it would be fiscally responsible for the city to agree to the settlement.

"I think this is the least worst solution. It allows the city to retain control of the front portion of the valley and it preserves it ... without shelling out more money," Djou said.

In a rare move, Mayor Mufi Hannemann is calling the City Council into today's special meeting as the Committee of the Whole to consider the settlement offer. Hannemann said in a letter to the Council that the Council must act before December to satisfy a court deadline.

Hannemann's move came because Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the district that includes Waimea Valley, refused to place the settlement offer on the agenda for Council consideration, his colleagues say.

"Obviously I'm not comfortable with the settlement," Dela Cruz said, declining to comment further.

Ann Kobayashi said, "He is very much against any real commercialization (of the valley). He doesn't want any attractions or rides."

But Kobayashi said that she is also concerned about keeping the valley in its natural state. [2]


On November 21, 2005, the Honolulu City Council, behind closed doors, voted 5-4 to settle the lawsuit between the city and the owner, but terms of the agreement were not made public. Environmentalists and many North Shore residents have strongly opposed the proposed deal, saying the valley should remain pristine.

Purchase of Waimea Valley

On Dec. 7, 2005, the Council voted 9-0 to kill the Waimea deal. The five members who changed their vote were Todd Apo, Charles Djou, Romy Cachola, Gary Okino and Rod Tam. It was because groups came forward agreeing to help foot the bill on any purchase price that convinced the five Council members to change their votes.

In a Honolulu Advertiser article dated November 30, 2005, entitled, New law may help state join purchase of valley, Will Hoover reported the following:

State Rep. Brian Schatz, D-25th (Makiki, Tantalus), suggested yesterday that the state help to purchase the property through the Legacy Lands Act.

That act, signed into law this year to provide millions of dollars for land conservation, was intended for this sort of situation, said Schatz, who helped author the law.

"Waimea Valley is a perfect and appropriate use of these funds," he said.

The accumulated money is to be used for preserving precious resources such as Waimea Valley that are in jeopardy of being developed, Schatz said.

Because the law is new, the fund's balance is currently low. Schatz said the Legislature might have to consider paying for the land out of its general appropriation, which would be reimbursed by the solvent Legacy fund.

Schatz disputed the thought that the issue is exclusively "the city's problem."

"This is everybody's problem," he said. "We are all going to need to pitch in to fix it."

If the private sector, the city, the state and the congressional committee could each pay a fourth, Waimea Valley could be saved, he said. [3]

In the December 7th Council meeting, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Rowena Akana told the Council,

"OHA is very serious about acquiring this property, either by ourselves or with other people. Mostly we want partnerships." OHA Trustee Dante Carpenter said an appraisal of the valley done by OHA in September 2001 came in between $5.3 million and $6.5 million. The city has already paid $5.1 million for the property. [4]

According to a Star-Bulletin article dated December 9, Crystal Kua wrote:

The mayor said the goal is to get Wolffer to negotiate with the National Audubon Society, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the state. All three promised financial assistance to purchase the valley.

"Now is the time to show me the money. Let's get serious," Hannemann said. "So all of you out there that want to see Waimea Valley preserved, I'm interested in having you at the table." [5]

In a Honolulu Advertiser article dated December 9, Robbie Dingeman wrote:

Scott Foster, a founding member of the preservation group Stewards of Waimea Valley, said he was disappointed to hear the mayor say he's trying to settle the case out of court.

Foster said attorney James Case, one of the state's leading experts on condemnation, told the Council on Wednesday that the valley's fate can best be decided in court by a jury that will set a fair price, one that's affordable to taxpayers.

"We welcome the mayor's involvement but he needs to review the latest findings," Foster said. [6]

Still later in the Advertiser article:

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee John D. Waihe'e IV, a key supporter of preserving the valley, said there is consensus from the rest of the trustees to soon take an official position in favor of acquiring Waimea Valley.

He noted that OHA had already discussed coming up with $6 million and could find more money if needed.

He can't fathom the estimates of more than $30 million for the conservation land that some have floated. "I think that's kind of absurd. I don't think it would be that at all," he said.

If the city went to court and a jury determined the value to be more than what the city was willing to pay, he believes OHA would not simply let the land revert to Wolffer. "There's no way we would just let that happen," Waihe'e said. [7]

New owner OHA

In a Honolulu Star-Bulletin article dated January 14, 2006 it was reported that a settlement had been reached for the purchase of Waimea Valley from landowner Christian Wolffer of Attractions Hawaii. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs will get title to the 1,875-acre valley, and the Audubon Society will continue to operate the Waimea Valley Audubon Center on about 300 acres of the valley.

The purchase price of $14.1 million dollars came from the following sources:

New management under OHA

The National Audubon Society decided to stop managing the valley in January 2007 after it could not reach an agreement with OHA on a long-term management lease.

In September 2007, Gary Gill was selected as project manager for Hi'ilei Aloha, a nonprofit group formed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to oversee management of Waimea Valley. According to OHA, OHA and the Audubon Society are continuing to negotiate on a transitional lease with the goal of turning operations over to the subsidiary of Hi‘ilei Aloha in February 2008.

Hi’ilei Aloha will also renew the community-based master planning process for Waimea Valley.

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