By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Should public access trump property rights?
For many Papaikou residents, the answer is a clear yes.
A hefty group of community members, many frustrated by intermittent or restricted access to a trail heading to Papaikou Mill Beach, voiced support at a public meeting Friday for a resolution that would have Hawaii County acquire the privately held path through eminent domain.
About 200 people attended the meeting, the first on the issue, at the Papaikou gym, with many arguing that the landowners should not have control over who can access the shoreline.
“It makes it hard … to feed our families,” said Nohea Masaoka.
Others echoed his statement, calling the ocean their families’ refrigerator.
“I don’t think it’s right,” said Pat Pacheco.
“Where is the aloha?” another man asked.
The property owners, Jim Waugh and Charlene Prickett, were off island as of Thursday and didn’t attend the meeting. But they also had their supporters, who argued the couple is being wrongly vilified.
“They put the trail in at their own expense,” said Susan Munro.
Some commenters complained about the owners limiting access to 12 hours a day and at other times without warning. But Munro said they are not obligated to provide access at all.
“There are not a lot of land owners doing that,” she said.
“Most would have closed it off completely.”
At the heart of the issue is a state law mandating public access to the shoreline.
Several testifiers cited that long-held right, and wondered why the county has to consider forcing a purchase.
Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who is introducing the measure and hosted the meeting, said the county Planning Department has concluded the trail is private property since there is no documentation proving a historical use.
That leaves the owners with the right, as with the rest of their property, to open or close it to access as they wish.
Kalani Lyman, who gathered 5,000 signatures supporting condemnation, said use of the property to access the small beach predates the current ownership. He cited a photo showing a wharf there in the 19th century and use by his great-grandmother.
“She was never denied access to the beach or to the river,” Lyman said.
Yagong said the county attempted to negotiate a purchase of the trail and the private road that leads to it but the Waugh and Prickett declined.
That left eminent domain as the next option.
“It’s not something I take lightly,” he said.
If approved by the County Council, the issue would then go to court, where it would be settled.
The county, if successful, would have to pay fair-market value for the trail and road, also included in the resolution.
Yagong said he didn’t have a cost estimate but noted the trail shouldn’t cost much. Adding to the expense, though, is the cost of settling the issue in court, a potentially lengthy process.
Yagong’s resolution will be heard next at the County Council’s Finance Committee meeting Oct. 2. He said the full council will host a public hearing at the gym between Oct. 8 and Oct. 12 that will include a site visit.
The Finance Committee will hear the issue again Oct. 16.
Afterward it will move to the full council for consideration Nov. 9 and Nov. 21. Public testimony will be taken at each meeting. Testimony can also be made in writing.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.