Oahu farmland, birthing stone site protected


HONOLULU — Hundreds of acres of rich Oahu farmland and a site where Hawaiian royalty once went to give birth will be protected from development under a plan announced Tuesday by public agencies and a nonprofit organization.

Multiple agencies pooled together $25 million so the Trust for Public Land could by 1,700 acres of former pineapple fields from a family trust that is dissolving.

The most culturally significant part of the deal is Kukaniloko, a collection of stones where Hawaiian royalty gave birth starting in the 1100s.

Five hundred acres surrounding this site will be handed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, creating a buffer around the stones that won’t ever be developed.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has held the title to the land under the stones since the late 1980s, but it is transferring this title to OHA to coincide with the sale of the surrounding area.

The state Agribusiness Development Corp. will lease the remaining 1,200 acres to farmers.

The land is among the best farmland in the state, said Agriculture Department Director Russell Kokubun. The area — just north of Wahiawa town and east of Schofield Barracks in central Oahu — is at a high elevation at about 900 feet above sea level and consistently gets rain, Kokubun said.

It’s not clear how many farmers will plant crops there, but Kokubun said the state would be talking not just to Oahu farmers but also farmers from neighbor islands about the land.

The legislature has already appropriated $750,000 to plan and design water irrigation for the property.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie hailed the project, saying it would help Hawaii grow its own food and achieve agriculture security.

“Not for some romantic vision of going back to the land, so much as the absolute necessity of survival in the 21st century,” he said at a press conference at his office. Importing so much food and energy makes Hawaii vulnerable, he said.

Kamana’opono Crabbe, OHA’s chief executive officer, thanked the parties involved the deal.

“Kukaniloko represents the legacy of the royal chiefs not only for the island of Oahu but throughout Hawaii. It dates back to the 12th century, of a premier king named Mailikukahi, who was the architect of the ahupuaa land division that we have today within the state of Hawaii,” he said.

The Estate of George Galbraith sold the land as part of its dissolution. Galbraith was a native of Ireland who moved to Hawaii in the 1800s. He died in 1904.

A state bond issue raised $13 million of the purchase costs. The Army contributed $4.5 million as part of a military program to create buffer zones next to installations.

Honolulu provided $4 million from a fund raised by a portion of county property taxes, while OHA contributed $3 million.

Private developer D.R. Horton provided the final $500,000.