Landowners want alternate route to Papaikou beach


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Jim Waugh and Charlene Prickett say they want to find a “third way” to resolve a dispute over a trail to Papaikou Mill Beach that runs through their property.

The Canadian couple, facing the possible taking of the privately-owned trail by Hawaii County, said they will propose an alternate route on their land for the public when they meet with County Council members Oct. 10.

The gathering on their property will occur shortly before a public hearing on the issue, scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Papaikou gym.

“What we want is to have a trail more appropriate for public access,” Waugh told the Tribune-Herald.

Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said that will be considered as an alternative to acquiring the existing trail at the end of Mill Road through eminent domain.

“If there is something acceptable to the community, meets the needs of the community, I will certainly be open to it,” he said.

Yagong, whose District 1 includes Papaikou, introduced a resolution to acquire the trail and a private road, also owned by Prickett and Waugh, to secure public access indefinitely.

Waugh and Prickett, who say they built the trail when they bought the former sugar mill land in 1995, have declined to sell either, but the county can force a purchase through the eminent domain process, which is handled through the courts.

While speaking to the council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday, the couple and their supporters, who made up the majority of testifiers, protested the resolution and assertions by some of its supporters that they are trying to limit access to the beach.

Gene Inoue said the owners have been “unjustly accused” and “labeled as self-serving mainlanders.”

“This is not the case as we see it,” he said. “They have made efforts to maintain the property of their home and grounds while giving access to the public who love this area.”

Some supporters of the resolution argue that the property has a history of being used for beach access that predates the couple’s ownership. They point to a 1979 shoreline assessment that marked the area as public access, and believe it should be provided without restrictions.

The owners use a gate to limit access to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. as well as enforce a handful of rules.

Waugh and Prickett, who referred to themselves as part-time Papaikou residents, told the Tribune-Herald that there was no trail when they purchased the property, and question the accuracy of the shoreline assessment.

They said they built the existing trail as a means for them to access the beach and transport equipment to tear down former sugar mill buildings.

Waugh said they decided to open the trail to the public for 12 hours as a day as well, but didn’t think it would lead to the current controversy.

“We never said no access to the sea,” Prickett said.

Gilbert Kualii, a former plantation employee, said the sugar mill didn’t allow access, and built a fence in the 1980s to keep would-be beachgoers out.

The couple uses the property to grow hardwood and fruit and said they need the trail to expand their operation. Selling it to the county would dissect their property and make further use of it difficult, they said.

They also said they don’t think the eminent domain process is appropriate.

Chris Yuen, the former county planning director who authored the resolution, said the county has the authority to acquire the trail through that process.

“This may be the firs time it’s been used by the county strictly to acquire a pedestrian right of way,” he said. “But this is the kind of thing government is supposed to do.”

The Finance Committee voted 7-1 to give the resolution a positive recommendation. Council member Dennis Onishi voted no; Council member Pete Hoffmann was absent.

Council member Angel Pilago said he supports holding a public hearing on the issue but voiced support for ending the issue quickly.

“I’d prefer to decide on it today once and for all,” he said, adding it’s “time to take aggressive action and intervene.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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