Moloa‘a trail raises public access issues

Government officials, representatives for North Shore landowner Tom McCloskey, Hawaiians and environmentalists converged on Moloa‘a Bay yesterday to solve a mystery: Finding an historic road used by residents for more than 70 years.

At the end of the three-hour visit, representatives for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and others walked away with conclusions that contrasted with those of environmentalists and Hawaiians.

DLNR officials and Honolulu attorney William Tam, representing McCloskey, stood by an April 2006 survey establishing a new coastal alignment.

But Rayne Regush and Caren Diamond, executive committee members of the Kaua‘i group of the Sierra Club Hawai‘i chapter, said the survey didn’t take into account two-thirds of the historic trail located about 20 feet mauka of the new trail that will be managed by the DLNR Na Ala Hele trail program.

“The one that people walked on today seems to have been the historic trail because it is well-worn,” Tam said.

Regush disagreed, saying, “They didn’t survey the historic trail and instead surveyed a new easement.”

Diamond recommended the state re-establish the historic trail as the new state trail.

The bickering could result in the loss off public access.

“If this bogs down, we aren’t going to have access, and the next generation isn’t going to have access,” Randy Ishikawa, an attorney with the state Attorney General’s office, told the 20 or so people present, including members of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Ishikawa maintained that public access is top priority.

“We can’t lose sight of that,” he said.

While the DLNR and representatives for McCloskey and Diamond reached an agreement in November to reaffirm the newly aligned pathway, the Land Board, realizing that more residents want to give input, would reconsider that decision, said Ron Agor, the Kaua‘i representative on the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

While that agreement has been reached, the state has to record the public easement in perpetuity from McCloskey with DLNR’s Bureau of Conveyance, Ishikawa said.

Before that happens, the state should listen to residents with hard questions about the new trail, Regush said.

“The community feels the historic trail should be recorded as a perpetual easement,” she said.

Tam said McCloskey owns the land on which both trails sit and is granting a perpetual public easement to the state in recognition of public access.

“He knows there is an historic trail, and he wants to make it right,” Tam said. The trail has not been designated for protection by government and is only historic in that it has been used for 70 and more years, he added.

Tam said the county has required McCloskey to square away the trail issue before the county Planning Commission will consider after-the-fact permits for cutting down more than 15 trees on his property in Moloa‘a without county permission.

Regush said if McCloskey wants to be a good neighbor, he should follow the recommendations his consultant, Hawaii Cultural Surveys, made in a 1999 archeological assessment and a 2003 limited cultural impact assessment. Both recommended preservation of the historic trail.

“There was a recommendation that no ground-disturbing activity such as bulldozing, mechanized vegetative clearing or construction activity should occur on the historic trail,” Regush said.

Tam said the Territory of Hawai‘i relinquished the title of the trail to a landowner in 1932 to develop other roads in Moloa‘a.

Ishikawa said it is his understanding the land deed allows the state to re-establish some public trail on McCloskey’s property.

Regush, however, said the deed may be referring to a trail other than the one that was relinquished, giving strength to the preservation of the historic trail.

“The legal arguments come into play as to what was actually relinquished in 1932,” she said.

She said longtime residents like Linda Sproat, a Kilauea community leader and member of the Na Ala Hele Advisory Committee on Kaua‘i, can attest to the true location of the historic trail.

Longtime Moloa‘a residents Loke and Charles Perreira said they vehemently oppose the realigned trail.

Loke Perreira said her father and uncle picked limu along the coastline and transported 100 pounds of limu at a time on the backs of donkeys who traveled safely on pasture land around the historic trail, not on the muddy, rock-studded, realigned path.

“There is no way they would take that dangerous road they say is the historic trail,” Charles Perreira said.

Tam said people have probably walked on both trails at one time or another and that the new alignment will serve future generations in the best way.

Perreira disagrees, saying keeping the historic trail intact is paramount to him.

“This is something spiritual about that old trail, and it isn’t just for us locals,” he said. “When I bring visitors up there and tell them we got to go, they don’t want to go.”

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

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