Ka‘u coast could be home of new national park


HILO — The Ka‘u coast and areas on other Hawaii islands would be candidates for an expanded National Park System under a bill announced Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii.

The bill, Schatz’s first since his nomination to the Senate in December, would require the Secretary of the Interior to conduct special resource studies on the Ka‘u coast at the southern tip of Hawaii Island, along with studies on the northern coast of Maui, the southeastern coast of Kauai and historic sites on Midway Atoll. The bill could also include the island of Rota in the Northern Mariana Islands if requested by the governor of the Northern Mariana Commonwealth.

The studies would help determine the areas’ suitability for addition to the National Park System.

The Pacific Islands Parks Act of 2013 would require the studies to be complete within three years of funding being made available. Money could come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, enacted 50 years ago to use revenue from extraction of offshore oil and gas to conserve other natural resources.

“This is a very exciting moment for Hawaii’s economy and our natural resources,” Schatz said in a telephone news conference Wednesday with Hawaii representatives of environmental and nonprofit land acquisition groups. “Visitors from all over the world travel to Hawaii to experience not only the natural beauty, but also the cultural and historical significance, of our national parks.”

Schatz said Hawaii’s seven national parks accounted for $259 million in tourism revenue in 2011.

Asked why the federal government would consider land acquisition during a tough economy, Schatz and others said the parks plan is very early in the process. The economy is expected to improve, and the bill sets the stage for acquisition when the time is right, they said.

“Even in tight budget times, we make important decisions about allocating our resources,” said Suzanne Case, Hawaii state director for The Nature Conservancy.

The studies to be undertaken by the secretary of the interior, under the bill, would evaluate the national significance of the site, determine its suitability and feasibility as a unit of the National Park System, consider other alternatives to preserve the area and identify cost estimates.

Schatz said he’s already met with key lawmakers to help ensure the bill gets a hearing.

Lee Hong, Hawaiian Islands state director for The Trust for Public Land, was also optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“Hawaii, because of its unique natural and cultural resources, has always competed well,” Hong said. “Even in tough economic times, Hawaii’s unique cultural and natural resources … do compete well nationally.”

Schatz invites suggestions on potential park sites as well as feedback on what the people of Hawaii and the Pacific want from their National Park System and other public lands.

Comments can be made by selecting the “new parks” from the topics drop-down menu at schatz.senate.gov/contact.cfm.