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Coming Together for Kawaikapu

Community shows support of Land Trust acquisition.

By Catherine Cluett

The Molokai Land Trust received overwhelming support in its effort to buy Kawaikapu Ranch on Molokai’s east end for placement in a conservation easement. The group has applied for $480,000 from the County of Maui’s Open Space, Natural Resources, Cultural Resources, and Scenic Views Preservation Fund for the acquisition of the 196.4 acre Kawaikapu parcel. Many residents came out in support of the proposed acquisition at a County of Maui meeting for public comment on the project last week.

“If it’s not put into conservation, that beautiful area may be lost,” explained Kainalu resident Charlotte Seales. “But we want to ensure that it be pono,” she added.

Molokai Land Trust (MLT) has already received $767,976 from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Legacy Lands Conservation Program for the purchase of Kawaikapu. The county funds are intended to match the state funding and make completion of the sale possible. If approved, the County of Maui will hold a perpetual Conservation Easement on the property.

Butch Haase, Executive Director of MLT, said the group is in the final stretch of the acquisition process, with an anticipated closing date on the property sale of Nov. 2.
He said the main focus of the Kawaikapu project will be preservation.

“We’ve decided on an ahupua`a-based management system,” he said, adding that residents would direct the start-up program and community input would be sought throughout the planning and preservation process. Such projects as removal of invasive species, revegetation with native varieties and protection of watershed areas are some key project goals. Haase also identified community-based restoration of ancient taro lo`i found on the property and education for youth and adults as playing a part in the MLT’s plan for the Kawaikapu parcel.

Kawaikapu borders Kip Dunbar’s ranch, which is already under easement. Dunbar said he supports MLT’s acquisition, but warned that managing land is not easy.

“I’m proud that MLT is looking at conservation and protection of water shed,” he said, adding that there are four water systems on the island and “the only one not in trouble is ours.”

County spokesperson Mahina Martin explained that the meeting was not a hearing, but
a “chance for everyone to share mana`o… because we understand this is an important issue.”

“This is our attempt to continue preserving our resources,” said MLT board member Stacey Crivello of the Kawaikapu acquisition.

In a written testimony, MLT board member Cheryl Corbiel described the area as a gem of east end and an important land mark.

Collette Machado, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee for Molokai and Lanai, also voiced her support, encouraging the county to move as quickly as possible to dispense the needed funds.

Bill Garnett has dedicated his life to restoring rare and endangered Hawaiian plants. He said MLT has created a safe place to reintroduce rare plants back into the wild.

“This is a really good opportunity to create refuge for really rare Hawaiian plants,” he said.

Returning Molokai resident Kaipo Seales stressed the education component of the project. He said keiki today need to learn the names of Hawaiian species.

“There should be more education,” he said. “[We need a] place for kids to get hands dirty instead of staying home and playing video games.”

In late 2007, Molokai Land Trust was approached by the Kawaikapu Ranch property owner about purchasing the property because it was becoming environmentally unmanageable. In May 2008, the Department of Land and Natural Resources approved funding for the project, submitted to the Legacy Lands Conservation Program in October 2007. Martin acknowledged that two years is a long time for a project like this to go through, but added that the county “must be able satisfy and respond to all concerns.”

Molokai resident DeGray Vanderbilt talked of past community divisions, pointing out that most Molokai residents want the same thing – the differences come in how to get there.

“I’m hopeful in my heart that this will be the beginning of everyone coming together,” he said.

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