A natural catastrophe could be in the making as government officials review a case in which a Kaua‘i rancher has been accused of clearing three acres of a Kealia hillside last month without a county grading permit.
In the event of a heavy storm, the partially-exposed hillside could create huge mudslides, sending tons of debris to Kealia Beach through storm culverts by the property, some residents charged during a meeting of the Kaua‘i County Council Planning Committee on Aug. 28.
Some residents may seek to re-emphasize that point during a scheduled meeting of the full council at the historic County Building today.
The council could allow testimony, but can’t officially discuss the matter because it was not put on council’s agenda and was not “sunshined.”
During a committee meeting last week, some residents also charged that mud from the Kealia site also could make its way down Kealia Road and over Kuhio Highway en route to the beach.
Mudslides could create environmental havoc at the beach, a popular site for surfing and picnicking, added residents.
Critics also charged the county was too slow in halting the work at the site. But public works department officials say procedures are in place for the agency to do its job properly.
The council committee plans to take up the matter again on Sept. 11.
Council chairman Kaipo Asing and councilmember Mel Rapozo, using information they have now, said a violation occurred and land lessee Bruce Laymon should be cited for non-compliance of the grading ordinance.
The matter has already been sent to the county prosecutor’s office, according to county officials.
Critics said that Laymon, owner of the Paradise Ranch, and his workers cleared the hillside without obtaining a required county grading permit.
Kealia resident Rayne Regush alerted county officials about the work last month, and was praised by the council for her effort.
The work was started on July 28, restarted in mid-August and was halted again by Aug. 20 or Aug. 21, after visits to the site by county public works staffers and contact with Laymon. Stop orders also were issued.
Regush said she was concerned the work could cause environmental damage to the beach in a rainstorm.
The three-acre parcel which was cleared is located makai of Kealia Road and is within a mile of the beach.
The clearing by Laymon’s crew left the three acres mostly exposed, but county official Wallace Kudo told the council committee that Laymon gave assurances the land will be revegetated.
Laymon’s work crew stacked debris on the three-acre site to prevent them from scattering in case of floodwaters.
Representatives for Laymon said the rancher and landscape contractor contends he thought he had the right to clear the land because of action by the East Kauai Soil and Water Conservation District last May.
Lack of information on specific tax map keys also led to the confusion over what could be cleared and what could not be cleared, according to Kaua‘i attorney Lorna Nishimitsu.
During the council committee meeting, Nishimitsu represented the landowner, Kealia Plantation, and acted as a spokeswoman for Laymon.
The three-acre site is part of 2011 acres owned by Kealia Plantation, and Laymon and others leased the acreage for agricultural and ranching purposes.
Laymon developed the conservation plan for the 2011 acres, and he contends its approval by East Kauai provided him with an exemption from the county grading ordinance for the small parcel as well. The East Kauai Soil and Water Conservation Board has scheduled a meeting on Sept. 9 to determine whether the parcel was included in the conservation plan it approved. Laymon is expected to attend the meeting to explain his side of the story.
Nishimitsu asked the council committee to defer any decision on whether to cite Laymon for any violations until the board has met and made a determination.