By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The trail to Papaikou Mill Beach took another step toward becoming public on Tuesday.
The proposal to acquire an easement for the trail, as well as the road leading to it, through eminent domain passed through the Hawaii County Council’s Finance Committee in a 6-0 vote, following further testimony from both sides of the issue and another presentation from the landowners.
The vote acts as a positive recommendation for the resolution, to be considered by the full council Nov. 9 and Nov. 21.
Two council members, Brenda Ford and Donald Ikeda, voted yes with reservations. Council members J Yoshimoto, Dennis Onishi and Brittany Smart were absent.
The owners, Charlene Prickett and Jim Waugh, meanwhile have been asked to further pursue an alternative or reach a resolution with Papaikou residents frustrated with the current rules.
The couple, who built the existing trail, had proposed building another route for the public, which would start on their neighbor’s land.
That proposal does not have the support of the neighbor, Steve Shropshire.
Waugh said he would be in Canada for much of November and would likely not be able to make much progress on the issues.
“It’s bizarre to have to come up with an answer to this puzzle … in two weeks time,” he said.
Chairman Dominic Yagong, who introduced the resolution, told the owners he would meet with them before the next meeting.
The resolution has a large share of supporters, as demonstrated at two well-attended meetings in Papaikou, where many residents expressed frustration with the current ownership. A petition seeking public ownership of the trail also gained 5,000 signatures.
Stoking frustration is a rule limiting access to be between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The rules also ban dogs, alcohol and drugs, fires, and strollers and other wheeled devices.
“What is happening is people are being marginalized from this public beach,” said Justin Avery.
Cory Harden, of the Moku Loa Sierra Club, said an easement would address three issues: protection of the “commons,” the aina and shoreline access.
“Hawaii has seen years of struggles over access,” she said. “Papaikou is an opportunity to set a precedent, to use a tool for eminent domain to address all three issues.”
The owners say the rules are similar to those enforced at county parks and are needed to protect the trail as well as their property, which includes a home and tree farm.
“Our rules are taken from the county book of rules but we are getting too old to do this alone,” Prickett said.”
Waugh, while providing a presentation on the history of the land, said he thinks the resolution is not necessary.
‘“There already is physical access to the ocean that is already open to the public at Papaikou,” he said. “What the resolution fails to address, and what the current owner also apparently failed to properly address, is common involvement in management and maintenance with that common access.”
Conflict has arisen between them and a few users, leading to trespass notices. The owners say it was a result of trail users riding dirt bikes on their property, bringing dogs, shooting at a pig in the gulch, and use for non-recreational purposes.
Whether there was access before Waugh and Prickett bought the property has also been a point of contention.
Some resolution supporters say their family has used the property to access the shore for generations and point to the county’s 1979 shoreline inventory which lists the property as a public access point.
Still, the designation could just mean the property has been used as an unofficial access point without the approval of the sugar mill that operated then, a letter from county Planning Department Chairwoman Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd to Prickett suggests.
Leithead-Todd wrote, “… the Planning Department has not confirmed that a legal right of public access exists for every access included in the Inventory and considers the Inventory as a guide to assist in identifying areas where public access is probably desirable and/or where historical public usage has been noted, whether legal or not.”
The owners also argue that sugar companies using the site attempted to restrict access and trespassing on their property.
While a rough trail appears to have existed in 1995, when the couple bought the property, one former sugar mill employee has commented that was created by workers building a fence to keep out trespassers.
Some also argue that the path should fall under the 1892 Highways Act, believing that early maps show a trail to the shore. The owners dispute that claim.
It’s also unclear what rules, if any, the county would enforce if it became responsible for the trail.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.