Leaseholders want to extend their stay in Koke’e

Koke’e Leaseholders Association members and other owners of cabins at Koke’e have asked the state to extend their cabin leases in Koke’e and the Waimea Canyon state parks beyond December 2005.

In a meeting with two state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials at ‘Ele’ele Elementary School in late Aug., 35 leaseholders testified they have protected park resources, helped lost hikers and repaired public facilities during the 17 years the leases have been in place, said Frank O. Hay, president of the Koke’e Leaseholders Association.

Another 45 friends attended the meeting to support the leaseholders, Hay said.

The leaseholders said they can continue to be an asset if they can have their leases extended and keep their cabins rather than surrender them to the state.

The expiration deadline and the surrendering of their cabins were established in leases 121 parties signed following a public auction of leases held by the DLNR in 1985.

Some of the lots have been lost through attrition, but about 110 leases remain. About 105 leases are to expire December 2005 and five others, due to administrative reasons, are to expire in the early part of 2006, Hay said.

“The contract we signed is a bad contract, and it should be amended,” Hay said.

The association consists of 75 cabin owners and 60 other members who are family members or friends of the leaseholders.

The other 35 leaseholders are independent of the association but have expressed a similar desire to continue with the leases and ownership of cabins they have improved, Hay said.

Daniel Quinn, administrator of the state Parks Division of the DLNR, and parks division planner Lauren Tanaka traveled to Kaua’i to gather input from leaseholders on their concerns about the leases.

Quinn also reported the nuts and bolts of a proposed resolution by the Legislature that addresses the expiring leases and a master plan for state parks.

Quinn said he couldn’t promise to extend the leases, and that only the state Land Board has the authority to do so.

Nonetheless, his staff is “open-minded” and will consider options on the leases, Quinn said.

But Tanaka said it is likely the public leases will continue after 2005. “It is likely we will have another public action prior to the expiration of the current leases,” she said.

Hay said some of the cabins and land leases have been in the possession of Kaua’i families for four generations.

A Kaua’i pioneer family, the Knudsens of West Kaua’i, built the first improved cabin in 1870. The family didn’t retain the lease during the public auction in 1985. The building was transported to south Kaua’i, where the Knudsen family still holds lands, but was severely damaged by Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992, Hay said.

About 50 or 60 cabins are located in Koke’e State Park and about 50 cabins are located in Waimea Canyon State Park, Hay said.

“We should be allowed to stay because we are an asset to the park,” Hay said. “We rescue people, we provide temporary lodging for lost hikers. We put out fires. We are the eyes and ears of the park community. I think that is a substantial public benefit.”

With materials provided by the state, leaseholders, on a volunteer basis, attached new shingles to the Koke’e park headquarters and repainted the building’s exterior in August, Hay said.

Jim Rosa, owner of Rosa’s Supply, organized professional roofers to help with the renovation of three other major structures in the park, including the Koke’e pavilion, Pu’u Ka Pele pavilion and the restroom at Hinahina, Hay said.

The leaseholders repair a structure each year, he said, adding “We have adopted all the public structures in the state parks.”

The $200,000 in lease fees and $50,000 (in 1998-1999) in fees from the Koke’e Lodge offset the cost of running the two state parks, Hay said.

Koke’e Lodge operates 12 state-owned cabins and a restaurant, Hay said.

Hay said state legislators should consider recommendations from the leaseholders for a “fair, equitable and reasonable means of handling the leases.”

Among the highlights in the resolution, the Legislature notes:

– The two state parks and other parts of Koke’e offer rare habitats for many threatened and endangered bird and plant species endemic to Hawai’i.

– Citizens helped create the parks over eighty years ago, and that the “Koke’e community” serves as a stewardship for all of Hawai’i, due to public service projects”

– Many of the homes have been recognized by the state Historical Preservation Division of the DLNR as having substantial architectural merit.

– There may be leaseholders who, when the current leases end, might choose not to renew their leases or will not be offered the chance to renew their leases. Such leaseholders should be reimbursed for improvements that have “added value to their lease properties.”

– The chairman of the Land Board is requested to consider a fair, equitable and reasonable extension of the existing leases, “so as to ensure that sufficient notice be provided to the lessees in accordance with the law, prior to their expiration.”

– The chairman is asked to consider repealing the provision in the leases requiring leaseholders to surrender their cabins, to ensure no private property is taken without compensation.

– The DLNR shall develop a master plan that address repairs and maintenance of state parks.

– The plan is to help guide the DLNR with the future planning of the parks, including the development of the natural reserve parks, and to help improve recreational opportunities.

The DLNR is to present a report on the issues 20 days before the start of the legislative session next January.

A public informational meeting on the master plan is scheduled to be held in West Kaua’i on Sept. 25.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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