Kauai Backcountry gets approval for activities operation in mauka Hanama’ulu

The Kaua’i County Planning Commission yesterday approved permits allowing Kauai Backcountry to operate hiking, horseriding, kayaking other recreational activities within a 15-acre parcel mauka of Hanama’ulu.

Lihue Land Co. owns the parcel, which is located east of the Kalepa Mountain ridge in mauka Hanama’ulu.

Before the approval came at a commission meeting held at the Lihu’e Civic Center, the commission and representatives for the company worked out key issues.

They included setting the number of customers the business could accommodate daily, controlling traffic impact from the project, caring for parts of an old irrigation system, for tuberidings and kayaks, and public access to mountainous areas.

Only commission chairwoman Abigail Santos voted against the proposal, saying she had reservations about the use of agricultural lands for recreational and commercial activities.

Santos also had concerns parts of the project would take place on state conservation lands, over which the county commission has no jurisdiction, a sentiment echoed by commissioner Sandi Kato-Klutke.

The Princeville-based company was granted a special permit, a use permit and Class IV Zoning permit for 6.2 acres under control by the county.

The other part of the proposal would unfold on another 9.8 acres managed by state Department of Land and Natural Resources. ATV and van tours are planned over the state lands, but no DLNR conservation use permit is required because the uses are not intensive.

Kauai Backcountry would use the 15 acres or so under an agreement with Lihue Land.

Kauai Backcountry agreed to reduce the number of visitors to the site from a little more than 180 to 132 customers each day.

As a condition for approval for the proposal, the Kaua’i County Planning Department recommended a maximum of two tours for each of the activities for a maximum of 132 customers daily.

To give Backcountry flexibility in its business operation, commissioner Randal Nishimura suggested three maximum daily tours for the activities.

Commissioner Michael Cockett supported the motion because he didn’t believe in “trying to micro-manage” the company.

“I would like to tell you folks to have an opportunity to give tourists a menu that reflects the reality of the given day or week,” Cockett said.

Avery Youn, a Kaua’i architect representing Backcountry, and Kelley Carswell-Haneberg, one of the owners of the company, said there may be days when more customers may sign on for one activity over another.

By a 4-2 vote, the commissioner agreed with Nishimura’s recommendation, which also called for:

– Backcountry, within six months of the start of its operation, to submit a a plan to the commission that could lead to revision of the proposal if needed.

– Backcountry to reduce tours to a maximum of two tours each day for each of the six activities for 132 customers daily if the commission rejects the report.

– The commission, after a year, may consider a request from Kauai Backcountry to increase the number of tours.

Backcountry representatives also agreed to work out the issue of traffic impact from Ma’ala Road onto state highways and time of the shuttling of customers to the project site with the state Department of Transportation.

A staging area for the operation would be located near the road.

Backcountry also agreed to only maintain parts of an irrigation system that runs through the project.

The project had partly sparked controversy because residents felt they could lose access to mountain areas if the proposal were approved.

The residents included kanaka maoli, the indigenous people of Hawai’i, who insisted they be allowed to go on the property to exercise gathering rights and other traditional rights, which Backcountry agreed to protect.

The agreements on these key issues were reached following negotiations between the commission and Youn.

Elaine Dunbar was the only member of the public at the meeting who objected to the proposal. “This venture is a sleeping monster,” Dunbar said, contending as well Backcountry had not done its homework, “because the impact is a guess.”

Dunbar noted that many people spoke against the proposal in the past to preserve Kaua’i’s rural lifestyle and public access, and that the “locking up, gating and exclusion tactics need to stop.”

The trails, equipment and cars, and 132 customers a day amount to a “lot of congestion, and that the commission, by approving the proposal, was asking for problems, she said.

Kauai Backcountry plans to use existing roads, trails, parts of an irrigation ditch system, tunnels and reservoirs for its project. The recreational activities include tuberiding tour and mountain bike tours.

During the same meeting, the commission also:

– Accepted a letter from New SeaCliff Estates Inc. to withdraw at this time its request to build five, two-story homes with garages and swimming pools on 33-plus-acres within the Seacliff Plantation subdivision in Kilauea.

The developer, James O’ Connor, said he wanted to work out community concerns before he came back to the commission to develop his project.

“We intend to fulfill all commitments,” said O’Connor, who added that he wanted to “leave no issue unresolved.”

Among the concerns voiced by the Kilauea Neighborhood Center and others were the pledge for a county agricultural park, the potential danger of putting homes on slopes, the size of the project and “color compatibility” of the buildings with their surroundings.

In a letter to the planning commission, David Sproat, a resident of Kilauea since 1968, and the fire chief of Kaua’i County, said approval of the permit sought by the developer would obliterate the trust he and others in Kilauea have for the county government.

New Seacliff had been seeking use permits and Class IV zoning permits to build the homes on agricultural land. Four of sites average five acres in size. A fifth site is about 12 acres.

The developer proposes to put the homes on former sugar cane lands located on a hillside above Maka’ano Place and near the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

During the afternoon session, the commission held a public hearing on a proposal by the state Department of Accounting and General Services to build a new judiciary complex mauka of Kapule Highway in Lihu’e that would consist of a two-story building and another three-story building.

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

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