- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - A group of Waipio Valley residents is working with primary landowners to ensure farmers are protected as new stewardship plans are drawn up for the land on the Big Island.

The Waipio Valley Stakeholders Alliance has been in discussions with Bishop Museum since the museum announced in January it would sell 547 acres, including a majority of Waipio’s taro farms.

The museum also plans to sell a 15-acre botanical garden. The properties have been valued together at $10 million, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/1T1qedo).

Museum CEO Blair Collis said ensuring the valley stays connected to its agricultural history remains a priority for the museum as it looks to sell the property.

“It comes down to making sure the land is kept the way it has historically been kept,” Collis said. “We hope that even better stewards would provide the opportunity to take care of the valley and its biology.”

Collis, however, worries the valley’s location is not suitable for carrying out agricultural stewardship. He said work needs to be done to address invasive species and a stream that feeds the taro fields.

The alliance, comprised of members of the Waipio Taro Farmers Association, Waipio Community Circle and Ha Ola O Waipio Valley, is also working with state lawmakers on stewardship plans for the property. A joint resolution ensures residents will stay involved throughout the process.

“What we wanted to do was really make sure that the Legislature knew this was a community issue that we’d be working on,” said Jim Cain, a member of the alliance.

Rep. Mark Nakashima, D-Hamakua, who introduced the measure, has proposed bringing together a group of state agencies to purchase the land.

“The title would rest with the (Department of Land and Natural Resources), but then day-to-day operations would fall to someone else,” he said.

Some members of the alliance say the museum should remain solvent so it would not be forced to sell its land.

“There’s a reason they’re doing this, so we want to ensure that they remain viable,” Cain said. “The best-case scenario is that Waipio Valley continues to be Waipio Valley.”

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This story has been corrected to show that Waipio Valley is on the Big Island, not on Oahu.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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