There has been much media coverage lately about our county’s intention to acquire a public access trail to the beach at Papa‘ikou’s old sugar mill site. In that case, the property owners had actually taken the initiative to make a trail to the shoreline for limited public access where there was no legal public easement. As some community members were not satisfied with that, the county is moving to take the trail through eminent domain.
A few miles north, in the area of the old Pepe’ekeo Landing at the end of Sugar Mill Road, quite the opposite is occurring. Here a property owner has cut off a public access easement that is recorded in the Bureau of Conveyances, and the county appears willing to tolerate it. Unfortunately for us, the access trail now has been moved around a construction site, so that the shoreline fronting the property, including a small black-sand beach, is inaccessible.
As of this writing, the public access trail, which is on record as going along the coast and around the point and on towards the lighthouse, is blocked on one side of the property by a chain link fence, which seems to float over the pali into space! It’s as much as your life is worth to try to get down to the beach around this fence. On the other side of the property, construction material and soil is piled up over the trail, and there is a “no trespassing” sign. Community members have been ordered off the trail that we all have a right to access.
Moreover, our Planning Department has issued a permit allowing a “single family residence” of over 7,000 square feet, to be constructed as close as 20 feet from the top of the pali, even though the original permit for the subdivision states “No house or other substantial structure shall be built closer to the ocean than 40 feet from the top of the sea cliff.” That permit, which the county should have upheld, laid out the guidelines under which the community, through its county government, agreed to allow the development to proceed in the first place.
Since Patricia Tummons of Environment Hawaii pointed out this and other issues to the Planning Department, the County has issued a cease and desist order, ostensibly because the property owner failed to file the plans for the swimming pool he was beginning to construct. The Planning Dept. also has levied a $20,000.00 fine for various violations on the Pepe’ekeo property however the County continues to allow the public access trail to be closed off at the Landing area. . The concern remains that the county may yet give away a public benefit that the community had every right to believe was secure. According to Environment Hawaii, the property owner has “been told that, if he resolves an outstanding violation, the department may look with favor on his request to shut down lateral shoreline access for two more years – and possibly beyond that.” This is the kind of sweet deal that our Special Management Area was created to prevent, and it is unacceptable. The result of allowing the 20 foot setback will be that if this portion of the public access trail is ever re-opened, on a daily basis, the fishermen and public in general will be walking as close as 10 feet from the “Pepe’ekeo Palace” on their way around the area of historic Pepe’ekeo Landing.
Instead, the property owner must change his plans so that his house is constructed within the confines set forth in the original SMA permit for the subdivision. The county should have the property owner apply for an SMA major permit. This way, there will be an opportunity for a public hearing, and the county will have the benefit of everyone’s perspective before deciding what to permit on this property.
In contrast to the Papa‘ikou situation, there is no need for the county to lay out money so that the public can access the shoreline at Pepe‘ekeo Point all that has already been provided for. The county just needs to follow its own guidelines and uphold its permit conditions.