Koke‘e cabin owners fighting back

Some Koke‘e Leaseholders Association members plan to press state officials to halt the process to remove 110 recreational cabins in the Koke‘e/Waimea State Park Complex.

The group members said the state Department of Land and Natural Resources should instead be checking the stability of reservoirs whose foundations could fail during the upcoming hurricane season.

“The DLNR is using police enforcement on those (Conservation District Use Application) permits,” said Tony Locricchio, an O‘ahu-based attorney and a leaseholder. “These guys are up there doing permit inspections instead of tending to dams to make sure there are no alterations to the dams and making sure people are warned (of potential dangers).”

Locricchio said he and others also will ask for an investigation into the circumstances that prompted the land board to approve the auctioning of the leases after consulting with the state attorney general’s office.

Prior to the consultation, the land board considered renegotiating leases for cabins deemed historic, usually those 50 years and older.

Peter Young, chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said DLNR Conservation and Coastal Land personnel, and not state law enforcement officers, have been processing the permits.

Young also said the land board has followed the recommendations of the state attorney general’s office to auction the leases rather than renegotiate them, to be in compliance with state law.

Locricchio said an association committee planned to meet this Wednesday to vote on the matters, and the full board could take action in the future.

Some cabin owners are seeking CDUA permits in anticipation the 20-year-old cabin leases expiring on Dec. 31.

Many cabin owners say they have been good stewards of the land for 20 years, and have attempted in recent years to renegotiate their leases directly with the state.

The leases are coveted because the cabins are located in some of the most remote areas of the island, and offer cabin owners easy access to more than 4,000 acres of pristine state forest and park areas.

The current lease conditions allow the state to seize the cabins still left on the land after Dec. 31.

Some leaseholders have applied for CDUA permits to either relocate their cabins or demolish them.

In light of the March 14 Ka Loko disaster and ongoing government and public concerns about the stability of the island’s other dams, the DLNR should be focusing its attention on the inspection of the reservoirs, Locricchio said.

“Hurricane season is only a week away, and with the heavy rains we can expect from hurricanes, we believe there is a crisis in public safety,” Locricchio said. “Now that we know for certain (from government inspections) that (all) dams are flawed, six or seven inches of rain could be fatal.”

Locricchio said he and other leaseholders have demanded the DLNR not use law enforcement officers to process the CDUA permits.

“They should be monitoring the dams, not the stupid administrative stuff, so they can grab our cabins,” he said.

“DOCARE (Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement) doesn’t deal with the maintenance or operations of the reservoirs,” Young said.

As for monitoring the reservoirs, Young said, “Our engineering staff is actively and aggressively working on dam safety, making sure the individual dam owners on Kaua‘i — as well as those on the other islands — implement the recommendations that we have identified in our emergency inspection reports done in March and April.”

Young said DLNR engineers, law enforcement officers and personnel processing the CDUA permits “have their respective responsibilities and they are fulfilling them.”

Locricchio also contended that the land board was unduly swayed by the state attorney general’s office when it decided to go ahead with the auction.

“In February, a secret letter from the state attorney general’s office went to the board and they had a closed door, executive session,” Locricchio said. “And the board totally reversed its position.”

Young said the land board was merely getting advice from another state agency.

“The board is a client of the attorney general, and the attorney general did review some of the actions (the proposal to renegotiate leases for old cabins), and provided an opinion,” Young said. “So the board is operating under the advice of the attorney general to make sure the decision (to move forward with an auction) is consistent with law.”

Young said the decision by the Land Board to consult with state attorneys is not out of the ordinary.

“Occasionally, we get opinions on legal matters,” he said.

Paul Matsunaga, a leaseholder, said he is applying for a CDUA permit to demolish his cabin because he has few options.

He said he decided not to apply for a permit to relocate his cabin because he does not own another parcel on which he could put the cabin.

The narrowness of the roads leading to the cabin and high relocation costs are two other reasons he has abandoned plans to relocate his cabin.

“So even if I got my CDUA permit, I couldn’t get machinery in there to remove the cabin,” Matsunaga said.

He said winning the lease back in the auction would be a hallow victory.

“If I win my cabin back, in the next breath, (state officials) will be taking it away,” he said.

Matsunaga currently owns the cabin and leases the land from the DLNR. Once the auction is over and he signs the lease, he will be leasing not only the land but the cabin he once owned.

Matsunaga, Frank Hay and Donn “Curly” Carswell have filed a lawsuit in 5th Circuit Court contending plans by the state to take the cabins without compensation is unconstitutional.

“Plain and simple, we just want compensation,” Matsunaga.

The three cabin owners are being represented by Kaua‘i attorney Daniel Hempey. Matsunaga said the names of other leaseholders have been added to the lawsuit.

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

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