Council approves takeover of Kohala trail, roadway

By NANCY COOK LAUER West Hawaii Today
The Hawaii County Council on Wednesday unanimously accepted a public access trail and unpaved roadway from developers of a North Kohala parcel, despite the advice of Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela, who said county code requires the administration to inspect the property before taking it over.

Resolutions 63 and 64 put into the county’s hands easements for a 10-foot-wide trail more than 2,000 feet long in Ainakea and a 1.7-acre roadway on property owned by the Charles A. Anderson Trust and Surety Kohala Corp., formerly Chalon International of Hawaii Inc., the original developer.

The unpaved roadway gives mauka-makai access between Akoni Pule Highway and the top of Lighthouse Road, known locally as Halaula Mill Road.

“It’s been the intent and the desire of the community to have access to the coastline for as long as I can remember,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, whose district the property is in.

The donation of the easements is part of a 2002 settlement between the developers and the county in exchange for the right to subdivide the property.

Council members went behind closed doors in executive session with Kamelamela, as allowed by law, to discuss potential liabilities if they accept responsibility for the property without inspecting it first. They emerged about an hour later, calling their discussion “great,” “robust” and even “open.” They then voted 9-0 in favor of the resolutions with little further discussion.

It was the first and only discussion and vote on the measures, which were waived from committee hearings at the request of the developers. The easement makes the county liable for all maintenance of the road, which also is used by several commercial ventures.

Under the terms of the agreement, public access will be open generally from sunrise or 6 a.m., whichever is earlier, to a half-hour beyond sunset or 6:30 p.m., whichever is later. Access for night fishing past 6:30 p.m. will be allowed for those actively engaged in night fishing activities, but does not include the right to overnight camping.

Council members pushed to move the resolutions along, rather than delay them for a month for the county Planning Department and Public Works to check out what the county now will be responsible for.

Kamelamela said the county code requires a “reasonable inspection” of the property before the county takes it over. He said he’s been in contact with the pertinent agencies and they agreed to expedite the inspection so the resolutions could be back before the council March 8.

“That’s the process,” Kamelamela said. “I want to ensure that we protect the interests of the county and the public on this.”

But Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, a former deputy corporation counsel for the county, said he doesn’t read the county code the same way. The inspection requirement is for infrastructure, not easements, he said.

“I don’t think we’re violating any processes,” Chung said.

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, a former county planner, agreed.

“I don’t think there’s any serious liability to the county in voting for it today,” she said.

Kamelamela said after the meeting he didn’t recommend the county not accept the property; he was asking for a postponement to give the administration a chance to complete its process first.

Richards said the community and developers have worked on the plan for years and the property could soon be sold, leaving a new owner to negotiate the deal and adding even more time to the process. Neither the developers nor community representatives attended the council meeting Wednesday because they thought the resolutions were going to be postponed, one of the community representatives said.

Toni Withington of the North Kohala Community Access Group said by phone after the meeting that she’s glad the deal was finalized. There is an active community group helping maintain the trails, she said.

“This is another step in getting this trail off the books and on the ground,” she said.

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