Koke’e lease auction revisited

A state legislator wants the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to cancel its plan to auction off 103 cabin leases in the Koke’e State Park as a way to allow longtime lessees to keep their cabins.

House Rep. Brian Schatz, vice chairman of the Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee, which oversees the state agency, said he will propose a resolution to have DLNR pull back on it auction plans.

If the DLNR is not responsive to a resolution, Schatz said he will propose legislation requiring DLNR to give current lessees priority for the leases.

He said he is opposed to using the auction as a way to bring more revenue to the state than what has been generated by current leases.

The action could result in the displacement of longtime lease-holders, Schatz said.

Approval of the resolution by the Legislature and compliance with it by the Board of Land and Natural Resources would result in a victory for members of the Koke’e Leaseholders Association, which includes a majority of the 103 cabin owners.

Saying they have been good stewards of the park and having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain park facilities over the past 20 years, members of the association have sought direct negotiations with the state for cabins that are 50 years old and were deemed historic due to age.

With the current 20-year leases expiring on Dec. 31, the Board of Land and Natural Resources recently approved the auction as a way to bring in new cabinowners to Koke’e.

The auction is scheduled for Sept. 9 or Sept. 10 of this year, according to an e-mail sent out by Frank O Hay, a spokesman for the Koke’e Leaseholders Association.

DLNR officials, who were not immediately available for comment on Friday, and their consultants, have said staggering the leases and having shorter leases are two ways to help bring more money to the state.

Schatz believes allowing the cabinowners to keep their leases is the better path to take.

“This is a Kaua’i tradition and these are local families,” Schatz said in an e-mail to The Garden Island. “As a matter of policy, we can’t just kick them out to accommodate people from the mainland who are able to pay more. That’s not what these cabins are for.”

In an interview with the Garden Island as well, Schatz said the DLNR is taking this approach as a way to generate more funds for state park operations.

At the same time though, island leaseholders feel they “are being squeezed in order to accommodate short-term vacation rentals,” Schatz said in the e-mail.

“This story is what everyone is experiencing everywhere in our state — local people are being squeezed out of their normal places to live and play,” Schatz said.

The current auction proposal is not being driven by business interests, he said. Rather, “It is the government making this decision, so we are in a position to change course and accommodate the existing, local lessees,” Schatz wrote.

From his point of view “the key (for a solution) here is that Koke’e should be for residents and visitors alike,” he said.

Raising lease rents through the auction “will price Kauaians out of the market. That is not appropriate,” Schatz said.

Because rates raised through an auction have not been determined, no estimates were available on the new revenues the state could take in through higher leases.

Before any auction occurs, if at all, “we need to take a deep breath and listen to the leaseholders and the rest of the community, and figure out if there is a more civilized way to do this,” Schatz said.

Prior to an auctioning of the leases in 1985, many long-time residents held leases at nominal rates.

The auction raised lease rates significantly and the process ended up pitting friends against friends, local residents against new Mainland arrivals.

Schatz said the House committee will conduct a hearing next Thursday so that “we will find out specifically what the range of solutions is.” It will be held in Room 423 at the State Capitol on O’ahu.

In related matters, the annual meeting of the Koke’e Leaseholders Association is scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. today in the Grove Room at the Waimea Plantation Cottages.

Up for discussion will be the planned state appraisals of the cabins and the lots next week and the status of the leases.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.
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