Members of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (Land Board) will consider Friday a proposal to allow for direct lease negotiations on all 103 recreational cabins within the Koke’e State Park and Waimea Canyon State Park complex, state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials have announced.
The announcement shocked leaders with the Koke’e Leaseholders Association, who wanted instead to have direct negotiations between state officials and leaseholders of 50-plus-year-old homes that are deemed historic due to their age or to their design.
Land Board members are scheduled to meet in Honolulu Friday to consider a plan proposed by DLNR planners that calls for direct negotiations between state personnel and any who are eligible to bid for the leases through drawings.
State officials said an interpretation of the law prevents what the leaseholders have sought.
Association president Frank O. Hay, in an interview with The Garden Island, said the potential loss of existing leaseholders through the drawings could spell ruin for the park.
Many leaseholders have donated their time and money, and have cared for the land over the past 20 years of the current lease, which expires this year, he said.
Those leaseholders have spent hundreds of thousands dollars of their own money to maintain and repair park structures, restrooms and fencing, Hay said.
The attention has helped boost the park experience for hundreds of thousands of residents and tourists who visit the park — the state’s flagship — each year, association members have said.
“I cannot think of a more-calculated way to destroy a historic community than a drawing for these historic properties,” Hay said in an e-mail sent to The Garden Island.
Hay said he believes state officials will be making a grave mistake if BLNR members approve the plan.
“We are looking to the Land Board to make intelligent decisions for the future of Koke’e. The present proposal doesn’t make sense,” Hay said.
Ron Agor, the Kaua’i representative on the Land Board, voiced similar frustrations.
“I am disappointed the Land Board may have to rescind the decision made last September (that allowed for direct negotiations between existing owners of historic cabins and the state),” Agor told The Garden Island.
That recommendation had been approved last September by members of the Land Board, pending a review by lawyers in the state office of the Attorney General.
Agor was scheduled to meet with some leaseholders and residents at a meeting at an undisclosed location in Waimea to discuss the latest proposal.
DLNR planners are presenting these new recommendations for the Land Board to consider:
- Approve direct negotiations for the cabin lessees, following two informal drawings, one for Kaua’i residents, and one for residents of the state. The planners intend to have 50 percent of the recreational residents and seven lots available to Kaua’i residents for the first drawing. Hay said he has problems with this recommendation. “The method is not appropriate for cabins, because of the fact that these are individual cabins, they have current owners, and the state is proposing no compensation for the existing lease-holders,” he said. The better solution, “although not perfect,” would be to have direct negotiations with longtime cabin owners, Hay said. Agor agreed with that assessment, but noted that if the situation can’t materialize, the next option would be to hold the drawing in which Kaua’i residents, even existing cabin-lessees from the island, could be eligible to take over the leases. “I have a passion about this,” he said. “I think having mostly Kaua’i people leasing the cabins will create a better consistency in developing a community up there.” The Kaua’i leaseholders, possibly more so than leaseholders from off the island, “would be more likely to spend time caring for their cabins and the environment,” Agor said. The balance of the leases and any lot leases not selected during the initial process will be made available in a second drawing. How much the leases could go for was not known;
- Enter into direct negotiations at a nominal rent for the lease of recreational cabins to representatives of nonprofit organizations who hold current leases;
- Approve a third, open, informal drawing and negotiation process for remaining leases that have not been disposed of.
In documents, DLNR planners noted that the process for the issuance of leases should be reviewed and approved by lawyers in the state office of the Attorney General.
If possible, Agor, who is an architect, said he also would like the Land Board members to consider including design requirements as part of the leases, to be in alignment with the state’s historic preservation law.
The current proposal to be sent to members of the Land Board on Friday contrasts with one key condition board members approved last September, that of the direct negotiations between owners of “historic cabins” and state officials.
DLNR planners noted that board members couldn’t allow for the direct negotiations to occur in that way because to do so would not be in compliance with certain state laws.
Hay said the laws can be changed, and that association members are mulling over whether to lobby for such a change.
“Slavery was legal at one time. Today it is outlawed,” Hay said. “We will evaluate our options.”
State officials recognize that current leaseholders have helped take care of park structures and facilities, and said they appreciate the effort.
The officials, however, have developed the new proposals partly to have new and different folks use the cabins.
What state officials hope will occur more often is already occurring in Koke’e, Hay said. “There is sufficient access to the leases up there, and there has always been,” he said, noting that there have been 81 transfers of leases since 1987.
Hay said 51 “local families” lost their leases during a government-sponsored auction of the more than 100 leases at the Wilcox Elementary School cafeteria in 1985.
The auction unnecessarily created anger and frustration among residents at the time, Hay said, and implementation of the latest recommendations by members of the Land Board has the potential to do the same.
“I feel quite sure that we are on our way to losing more cabins if DLNR makes less-than-intelligent decisions,” Hay said.
State officials have said in the past that proposed options have come about after much research and analysis, and are intended to be fair to all.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com