Papa’a Bay public-access fight continues

A dispute over whether a public road exists giving public access to Papa’a Bay on the North Shore is still being fought in court.

Attorneys for landowner Peter Guber say public access ends at the gate to his Papa’a Bay Ranch, and county officials and some citizens feel a road going through the ranch property is a public-access route to the beach at Papa’a Bay.

“It is still ongoing. It has not been resolved yet,” Kaua’i Deputy County Attorney James Tagupa said of the law-suit earlier this week.

In January 2005, county attorneys claimed in Fifth Circuit Court on Kaua’i that a 30-foot-wide public road exists on the Papa’a Bay Ranch estate owned by movie producer Peter Guber.

County attorneys argued that state-court judges have jurisdiction, and therefore a Kaua’i judge should determine the matter.

Guber denied the claim, and asked that the case be moved over to U.S. District Court in Honolulu because he is a California resident. In February 2005, the case was moved over to federal court.

The latest court action in the dispute involves a subpoena that was issued to get supporting documentation for a report that claimed that a public road cuts through the land. The federal judge was asked to compel the county to produce that documentation. After a hearing at the end of last month, county officials will turn over the information.

A bench trial is set for June.

Witnesses are being lined up to testify as to whether or not a public road exists on Guber’s ranch.

Court papers show that county lawyers will bring in a surveyor and the county engineer, and they also argued that the county has a right to assert claims to public rights-of-way. The county’s lawyers also contend that additional sources, such as sugar plantation maps, support the existence of a road. If it is there, the county contends it should be delineated and opened to the public.

Guber will bring in people to testify that there was no public road, Guber’s attorney Paul Alston said. A witness from a title company will testify about the purchase of the property, and another witness will provide Hawaiian-to-English translations in relation to land documents.

The case is an offshoot of a federal court case.

In June 2004, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste announced in a press release that there is a public road across Guber’s land that leads to Papa’a Beach. He made that statement based on a report done by a Big Island attorney, who claimed that there is a public right-of-way.

Guber disagreed with the mayor’s claim, and took the county to federal court. That suit was dismissed in November 2004, because county attorneys did not press the claim that such a road exists.

In response, the county took Guber to Fifth Circuit Court in January of last year.

The road war flared in 2003, when four people were arrested for trespassing on Guber’s land in an effort to get to the beach.

One of those arrested, David Denson, said on Wednesday that he was found not guilty of trespassing.

He was arrested during a planned “mass trespass” in December 2003. About 75 people showed up after it was advertised.

The day before he was arrested, Denson sued Guber in the Fifth Circuit, claiming that he owned some of the land that became part of Guber’s ranch.

Denson’s case was moved to federal court three months ago.

Guber bought the ranch in 1998. Alston said it is now for sale.

Among the movies Guber produced are “The Color Purple” and “Rain Man.”

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