$375,000 in ocean, mountain access funds reallocated

A decision by Mayor Bryan Baptiste not to use $375,000 to acquire and to improve public access to the ocean and mountains has sparked criticism.

Former Kauai County Councilman Ron Kouchi, as well as local residents who supported the plan, are criticizing the use of the funds for other projects.

County officials said the $375,000 could lapse back into a capital improvement project/general fund or to the county’s operating budget if not used.

Instead of being used for preserving public access, the money was apparently used for other projects that could benefit island residents, officials said.

They include:

  • Matching state funds to “rubberize” the track at Vidinha Stadium.
  • $75,000 for improvements at county parks.
  • Paying for the improvements at the Lihue Civic Center.

The $375,000 that was intended to be used for the protection of public access was not put in the recently approved budget for the fiscal year that starts next Tuesday, county officials said.

The funds could be replaced later at the requests of the mayor or the county council, said Cyndi Ozaki, the county public information officer.

The issue has become controversial because of the fear raised by residents that more public access will be lost as more development occurs on Kauai.

Kouchi was chairman of the council, and Kauai’s state Sen. Gary Hooser sat on the council, when they introduced the funding initiative for the county’s capital improvement general fund for fiscal year 2002-2003.

The full council found merit with their request and approved it.

Hooser said he was disappointed the money had not been spent as he had intended, but “is hopeful that the council will reallocate funds in the future.”

Kouchi said the decision not to spend the funds perplexed him. “There was an increase in revenues, and it was not spent in preserving our coastal and mountain access, by letting it lapse,” he said.

He said there was more than sufficient funds to carry out the proposal. There was a 13 to 15 percent increase in property tax collections between the two fiscal years, Kouchi said.

“Look at how many millions in dollars went up from last year in collections,” he said.

Through the “appropriation for public access initiative,” Kouchi and Hooser called for acquiring and improving public access easements in mauka and makai areas that might have been inadvertently lost.

The funds also could be used to protect access where “there is evidence of historical community usage” to access shorelines near public roadways.

Ozaki said the “line item” for the $375,000 is still in a county budget, and that it is possible other funds can be restored to carry out the original intent of the funds.

Ozaki said Baptiste wants to work with the community through a “planned approach” in identifying and prioritizing the needs of residents as they relate to protecting public access.

“Once prioritized, the mayor is committed to working with the council to provide the funding for those access needs,” she said.

Residents have called county officials about their concerns that the funds could evaporate if not used by June 30, as spelled out in the funding initiative.

In an e-mail to The Garden Island, Richard Diamond contended that the council and the mayor have “done nothing to implement the project.”

“I think almost everybody on Kauai is concerned about ocean access,” Diamond wrote. The funds could have been used to restore the use of a trail that leads to Kauapea Beach in Kilauea, he said.

Diamond said government officials may be busy with other issues, but protection of public access should be a top priority.

With each passing year, “more and more trails are being closed, and this affects everyone living on Kauai,” Diamond said.

Even though the $375,000 has been reallocated, Ozaki, Kouchi and county officials pointed out that a charter amendment approved by voters in 2002 will help protect public access.

The approved measure annually earmarks 1/2 of 1 percent of the certified property tax revenues to establish public access, open space and a “natural resources” preservation fund.

County officials said $237,650 has been generated and is in next year’s county budget. The permanent fund is separate from the $375,000 public access fund.

But before the $237,650 can be used, an ordinance, as required by the charter amendment, must be adopted first. The council staff is working on the legislation now.

Kouchi hailed the permanent fund as a more productive tool to achieve what the $375,000 had proposed to do.

“People feel it is important to protect public access to the ocean and the mountain, and this is our island, and nobody should fence us out,” he said.

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

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