Koke’e leases to be auctioned

Members of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources have approved an auction for 103 recreational cabins in Koke’e State Park despite efforts by long-time cabin owners to keep their leases through direct negotiations with the state agency.

In an interview with The Garden Island yesterday, Ron Agor, an architect and the Kaua’i representative on the land board, said the auction was the lesser of two evils for the cabin owners.

Agor said the auction offered current owners the best chance of keeping their leases, which are coveted because they offer accommodations at one of the most pristine and natural settings found on the island.

Alternatives being considered included random drawings for the cabin leases, some of which have been in the same families for generations.

Some of the leases are currently held by some of the most wealthy and powerful families on Kaua’i.

During a recent meeting in Honolulu, board members were presented with a recommendation from state Department of Land and Natural Resources planners to hold drawings for all the leases, based on an interpretation of state laws by lawyers in the state Attorney General’s office.

That recommendation shocked leaders with the Koke’e Leaseholders Association, who wanted direct negotiations between state officials and owners of cabins that were 50 years old and were deemed historic due to age or design.

As an alternative to both, and on Agor’s recommendation, the land board members decided during their meeting that an auction was the best way to go.

“I thought it was only fair that existing leaseholders were given an opportunity to bid for their own cabins,” he said.

The same chance would not exist for the cabin lessees through drawings or lotteries, Agor said.

Up until the decision was reached, many of the board members were leaning toward having a drawing, Agor said.

Agor said the majority of the six-member board changed their minds after he made his recommendation and board members assessed the merit of an auction.

His call for an auction was supported by Timothy Johns, an at-large board member and former BLNR and DLNR chair, Agor said.

Johns had to leave the meeting early for another commitment, but before he left, he “made the comment he would support the auction,” Agor said.

Two dozen cabin owners attending the meeting were on edge until the decision for an auction was made, Agor said.

“They breathed a sigh of relief to know that the auction would be held,” Agor said.

Some current leaseholders have invested heavily into their cabins, and could lose those investments if a drawing system was agreed upon, as there would be no guarantee and very little chance for them to be able to hold onto their same cabins.

Agor said he would prefer having most of the leases held by Kaua’i residents, or at least by those who have the same passion for living on Kaua’i as long-time residents.

“It is my firm belief that the more Kaua’i people you have up there owning the leases, the better the community can be developed in terms of people taking care of the environment up there, because they are available, and they would be on the island,” Agor said.

Where and when the auction will be held will be established in two weeks or so, Agor said.

The auction should be held before the expiration of the leases on Dec. 31, he said.

Certain cabin lessees owners who aren’t successful in the auction process should have enough time in which to remove their properties before the 20-year leases expire, Agor said.

DLNR officials have said, generally, that all the cabins will have to be surrendered to the state when the leases expire.

But exception to that general rule exists for some long-time cabin owners, Agor said.

He said it was his understanding that current lease-holders who built their cabins and do not retain their leases in an auction can have their properties removed before the Dec. 31 expiration deadline.

Those folks, however, would have to obtain a conservation district use application from the land board to do so, as the 103 cabins sit on state conservation lands, Agor said.

“It is the humane thing to allow them to remove the cabins,” he said.

Related to the decision on the cabin leases, the board decided nonprofit groups with cabins can negotiate directly with the state on their leases, Agor said.

He said board members took that stand because they felt the cabins operated by such groups have provided the public greater access to Kaua’i’s outdoor environment. Island students regularly use such cabins.

The land board members will take up the matter of a proposed 20-year plan for the 6,182-acre Koke’e and Waimea State Park Complex in the future.

The plan proposes major infrastructure improvements, some of which are already occurring, that will change the way the park looks over the next 20 years.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the proposal is a recommendation by DLNR planners and consultants to have an entry gate installed on Koke’e Road, and to assess entry fees.

Because they pay taxes, some Kauaians have argued they shouldn’t have to pay such fees.

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