By Derrick DePledge
State House Speaker Joseph Souki suggested Thursday evening that the decision on whether the state should spend $40 million to preserve land near Turtle Bay Resort could wait until next session.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie had announced last week that the state, the city, and a private trust had agreed to spend $48.5 million for a conservation easement that would protect 665 acres from future development. Replay Resorts Inc., the resort’s developers, would be able to build two new hotels and oceanfront homes, but the agreement would strip 650 homes from the development blueprint.
Conservationists have praised the deal, which would protect Kawela Bay and Kahuku Point, but the agreement is contingent on the state approving $40 million in bond money.
House and Senate negotiators have been trying to fit the bond money into the state construction outlay as a Friday deadline looms on the state budget.
“It would be unwise to rush to a decision in the final days of the legislative session,” Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku) said in a statement. “We only learned of the agreement just a couple of days ago. We have not had any discussion with the governor’s office on this. We do not know any of the details of the agreement.
“I believe this matter can be taken up next session after we have had a chance to discuss the details with the governor’s office and had the opportunity to vet the arrangement.”
Abercrombie’s office responded late Thursday. “This would be very disappointing to the community and all parties who worked hard and in good faith to reach a deal to preserve the Turtle Bay shoreline,” according to a statement. “Letting an opportunity like this slip through our hands would be sad because it may not be available again.”
Abercrombie’s office called Souki’s comments “perplexing” because the governor’s aides hope to meet with Souki on Friday morning to provide information about the Turtle Bay deal.
An hour before Souki issued his statement, Sen. David Ige, the lead Senate negotiator on the budget, told reporters that the Senate had come up with a creative solution to fund the Turtle Bay deal.
The state, Ige said, could restructure the debt on the Hawaii Convention Center and use a portion of the interest savings -- about $3 million -- to cover debt service in the state budget for the $40 million in bonds for Turtle Bay.
“It would be an opportunity for us to -- within the existing resources -- acquire the easement,” said Ige (D, Pearl Harbor-Pearl City-Aiea).
Ige, who is challenging Abercrombie in the Democratic primary, rejected claims by some conservationists that he was holding up the money for the deal.