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Editorial: Pupukea-Paumalu preservation a priceless gift to Hawaii


Preservation of 1,129 acres of North Shore land comes after years of community efforts.

RESOLUTE individuals allied with the community, government, the military and land trust organizations have given Hawaii a lasting gift -- preservation of 1,129 acres of a coastal bluff and mauka and makai lands on Oahu's North Shore.
Though the property was bought for almost $8 million, its value, as they say, is priceless, for it will remain open and protected, a green backdrop from the shoreline in perpetuity.

The North Shore Community Land Trust led by Blake McElhany, its tireless chairman and driving force, as well as the countless volunteers who worked hard for years to keep the land from development deserve the public's appreciation.

The successful purchase demonstrates how conflict can be transformed into consensus by cool-headed discussion and how shared goals can be aligned to benefit all. It shows the importance of ordinary citizens and groups becoming involved and what can be accomplished through their resourcefulness.

Preservation of Pupukea-Paumalu began like so many other land disputes in Hawaii. A company, in this case Obayashi Corp. of Japan, bought the property in 1974 with the intent of developing it for pricey homes, a golf course and other uses.

The coastal bluff, sitting 400 feet above Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline, had become an iconic feature of surfing, easily identified in thousands of photos of North Shore board riders and waves. Inland, a state forest reserve kept mauka areas in the green.

A community set on keeping its rural atmosphere objected, but the City Council approved a zoning change to allow hundreds of "gentleman farm" estates to be built. Then came the lawsuit, a ruling in favor of the developers, an appeal to the state Supreme Court that kept the matter in limbo for years and an ultimate court decision that again sustained the Council's rezoning.

In the meantime, however, the economic picture changed and Obayashi placed the land on the market, seeking $12 million.

Despite that formidable price tag, a coalition was formed to raise the money to buy the land for preservation. The help of the Army, which hold lands far back in the mountains, was enlisted, along with the state, the city and members of Congress, who got several federal agencies to throw in some funding. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit group, helped to steer and complete the purchase of the land for transfer to the state and city.

Obayashi Corp. also deserves credit for responding to the North Shore community's desire by cutting its asking price for the property.

Even though its history began with discord, the Pupukea-Paumalu preserve is a testament to what can be achieved through reasonable civil engagement. In that sense, it is more than a landscape treasure.

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