By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It took a series of packed community meetings and a petition drive to get the Hawaii County Council to back the purchase of an easement for the Papaikou Mill Beach trail.
But actual acquisition, through the eminent domain process, takes more than a council resolution, and the funding needed to make the path public still appears anything but certain.
Mayor Billy Kenoi’s proposed budget doesn’t include funding for purchasing a trail easement, which is causing concern for those who pushed to put the only access to the beach under the county’s control.
Finance Director Nancy Crawford said the money for an easement, which would not come from the open space fund, could not be found for the next fiscal year that begins in July.
The $370.8 million proposed budget is 1.5 percent larger than this year’s fiscal plan but still includes “major sacrifices” and program cuts, she said.
“It’s kind of in our court right now,” Crawford acknowledged. “We’ll move on this as we can based on funding and timeline availability.”
Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, whose district includes Papaikou, said the council has been left with an “empty cart.”
Before moving ahead with the eminent domain process, the county would need to conduct an appraisal to determine just compensation.
Poindexter said she plans to seek funding for an appraisal when she meets with other council members for budget talks that begin today, though she acknowledged that any further action would likely have to wait another year.
“I’m hoping that I’ll get it (an appraisal) on this year’s budget, definitely,” she said. “I’ll push hard for that because we need to get an appraisal done.”
How much that would cost was unclear. But Crawford said it’s possible that the money for an appraisal could be found within Kenoi’s proposed budget.
Still, she said it may not make sense to fund it unless the county is ready to follow through on the purchase.
The trail runs through the property of Charlene Prickett and Jim Waugh, who allow access for about 12 hours a day.
Some trail users objected to the time restrictions and other rules they have enforced, leading to a push to put it under county control.
The council passed a resolution in November in support of buying an easement for the trail as well as the private road that leads to it.
Only three of the council members who voted on the resolution remain on the council. The other six, including Poindexter, took office in December.
Advocates for acquiring a public easement for the trail have expressed frustration over the rate of progress, Poindexter acknowledged.
Tony Gutierrez, one of those advocates, said he realizes that the resolution was merely “step one.”
“We won a resolution, but we’re stuck in the middle now,” he said.
Gutierrez said he is disappointed that more action hasn’t been taken, but he thinks the council will follow through.
“It will happen. I know it will happen,” he said.
“I don’t know if it will be this year.”
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.