By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
PAPAIKOU — About 100 people, many sporting red-and-white palaka armbands symbolizing their support for 24-hour public access to Papaikou Mill Beach, met Tuesday night with the area’s council member and the county’s top civil attorney.
Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter and Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida fielded questions at Papaikou Community Center over the access controversy to the popular beach known as “The Mill.” Also present was former Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong, who last year introduced legislation authorizing the county to use eminent domain, if necessary, to acquire the trail to the shoreline.
An appraisal commissioned by the county as part of the process put the price of the path at $28,500, but both Ashida and Poindexter said acquiring the path is not as simple as handing over a check to the property owners, Charlene Prickett and Jim Waugh.
“The next step is, you attempt to negotiate a settlement,” said Ashida, noting that Prickett and Waugh are under no legal obligation to accept the county’s appraised price. He added that due process is required in condemnation cases and they are usually both lengthy and costly, especially if litigation is involved.
“How many of you guys have driven the new Mamalahoa bypass?” Ashida asked, and a couple of folks raised their hands. It turned out to be a trick question.
“If you think you’ve driven it, the new bypass isn’t open,” he said. “The reason the new bypass isn’t open is that it’s been going through condemnation for the past 8 1/2 years. There’s good reason why in cases of eminent domain, we don’t want it to go to trial. Because in criminal cases, where you have the right to a speedy trial, those cases (condemnation lawsuits) probably have the lowest priority in terms of court scheduling.”
Prickett and Waugh, part-time residents who bought the former sugar mill property from C. Brewer and Co. in 1995, weren’t present and were said to be off-island. Waugh cut a switchback trail to the beach, and the couple erected a fence with a gate and limited access hours to the beach — which is public but can only be accessed by land via private property. They also posted a list of rules for those who use the access trail.
None who spoke or asked questions of the county officials took Prickett’s and Waugh’s side in the long-simmering shoreline skirmish.
“There’s due process and the rights of private property owners, but what about the right of the public to have access to the shoreline?” Lillian Tavares asked, rhetorically. “… The county has a responsibility, each county on every island, to supervise public access to the shoreline. … In places like Kahala, in places like Waimanalo (on Oahu), there are long stretches of white sand beach with public access every 100 feet. … I wonder what the county’s plan is to provide public access on this island for all the people, as required by the state. Because it’s playing over and over again, this same scenario. This has gotta be resolved.”
Kalani Lyman, a Papaikou Mill Road resident whose brother, Norman Lyman III, died of a heart attack on the Papaikou Mill Beach trail almost three years ago, said he just wants “what we’ve had for generations.”
“I want it to be like it was before it was kapu,” he said.
One individual suggested making the beach a county park, but Poindexter cautioned to “be careful what you wish for” and Ashida opined that liability and Americans With Disabilities Act requirements of public parks could be costly for taxpayers.
Another person expressed her concern that publicity over the county’s proposed acquisition of the trail could attract busloads of tourists “if it’s a nice beach access and it ends up on websites.”
Chris Yuen, a lawyer and former county planning director, voiced his own concern.
“I’m concerned that they (Prickett and Waugh) are not going to want to negotiate over what the price of the trail is, but over whether or not there’s going to be public access.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.