By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii County could manage but not own the Banyan Drive area and two state parks under legislation amended last week.
Several bills were introduced this legislative session to transfer ownership of the Banyan Drive hotel lands and Hapuna Beach and Mauna Kea state recreation areas to the county.
But the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee on Friday rewrote the bills to allow the county to lease the lands from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources instead.
Sen. Gilbert Kahele, D-Hilo, a committee member, said the bills were amended due to concerns over the legality of transferring the properties since they are ceded lands.
“This way it keeps the discussion going,” he said. “That’s basically where we are at right now.”
In its written testimony, the state Attorney General’s Office said the state could only sell, not simply transfer, the lands to the county.
Any sale would also have to reflect the full value of the properties.
“Because the bills, as currently drafted, do not specify how the transfers are to be made, we raised concerns that the state could be sued for mismanagement of the land of the public land trust,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Daniel Morris.
Revenues from ceded lands are held in trust for public education, the betterment of Native Hawaiians, farm and home ownership, and public use of land.
The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs opposed the proposed transfers since it would reduce revenue for the public land trust. OHA also said the state should maintain ownership of ceded lands until Native Hawaiian claims to them are resolved.
The county has sought to take ownership of the lands, believing it could be a better manager, particularly of the Banyan Drive area, which hosts many of East Hawaii’s hotels.
It’s unclear how a lease agreement — at $1 a year each — would impact the county’s ability to manage the lands or lease agreements with the hotels.
Mayor Billy Kenoi couldn’t be reached for comment by press time Sunday.
The state would still get a share of the revenue from the lands, according to a committee report.
DLNR and the county have discussed transferring ownership of the two recreation areas before but the Legislature intervened in 2011.
It passed a resolution urging those talks to be suspended, noting potential development or management though the Public Land Development Corporation, formed that year.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.