Koke‘e cabin auction deadline looms

LIHU‘E — Seventeen cabins in Koke‘e and Waimea state parks have been empty for a few years without anyone maintaining them and some may be beyond repair.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has decided to put them up for auction, giving Kauaians first dibs. But local residents were only given a 30-day notice to apply and two months to comply with all the requirements prior to the actual auction.

“The timeframe for the auction, only 60 days from initial announcement to the auction date, is far too short and doesn’t serve the community well.” said Erik Coopersmith, a member of the Koke‘e Advisory Council which was created in 2008 by Act 223 of the state Legislature.

The DLNR on Oct. 7 announced the deadline to apply for a bid is Nov. 7. The first round of the three-tiered auction will be Dec. 8, and only for Kaua‘i residents. All remaining cabins will then be auctioned to statewide residents. If by then there are any cabins left, the next auction will be open to Mainland bidders.

“Just making it to Koke‘e and finding the 17 cabins up for auction could take many folks several weeks,” Coopersmith said.

“Then, by Nov. 7, if you do find a cabin worth bidding on, you have to wade through the 126-page bid packet from the state to even figure out how to qualify to participate in the auction,” he said.

‘Devil in the details’

Coppersmith advised bidders to understand the commitment and investment required to make the Koke‘e cabin dream a reality. “It’s not for everybody.”

Most of the cabins that will go up for auction are in “extremely poor condition,” he said. In addition to agreeing on an annual lease, bid winners will agree on repairing or replacing the cabin at their own expense, then return it to the state after the lease expires in 20 years.

Even if local residents decide to form a hui to bid on a cabin, each member of the group will need to prove that he or she is financially able to carry the entire lease amount, according to Coopersmith.

Bidders will be required to put a performance bond equal to one year of the lease amount to guarantee the annual payment.

The lease is not the only expense; bid winners will have to come up with real property taxes, liability insurance and a water bill, Coopersmith said.

“The devil is in the details, so read carefully, and make sure you understand what you’re getting into,” he said.

Coopersmith said the council could help potential bidders, and is planning to hold at least one community meeting to educate and assist local residents through the process. The council also plans to ask DLNR to participate in the meeting.

DLNR support

Gov. Neil Abercrombie took office in December, and soon appointed William Aila to replace DLNR Chair Laura Thielen, appointed by former Gov. Linda Lingle.

When Aila, originally from Kaua‘i, was on island in February for a question-and-answer session at Duke’s Restaurant, Councilwoman Noreen Ohai Daniels made an emotional plea to Aila for help, saying the former administration had been ignoring the council.

Westside resident Rhoda Libre on Oct. 6, a day before DLNR announced the auctions, said the council’s progress in addressing Koke‘e’s problems have left many in dismay. She was one of at least 48 residents who signed a letter recently sent to Aila alleging that the council has not been effective in community collaboration, and requesting a reconsideration of the council’s policies and its members.

Libre said Aila recently appointed her to the council, but she has yet to attend a meeting; the last meeting posted on the council’s website was on Feb. 15.

Coopersmith said the council is not the one to be blame if the community is not being heard.

“Up until now the DLNR has not been at all interested in receiving Kaua‘i community input on this issue,” he said.

Since its inception, Coopersmith said, the council has made every effort to address problems with cabin leases and the proposed auction.

There’s no enforcing or funding mechanism for the council and DLNR is not required to participate in the meetings, he said, but the council was created to provide community input to DLNR about issues at Koke‘e and Waimea Canyon state parks.

“The DLNR has been wholly unresponsive up to this point,” said Coopersmith, adding that by ignoring the advice of the council, the DLNR has “effectively silenced the community’s conduit to the DLNR on matters related to Koke‘e.”

The council tried to change the auction to a lottery to give everyone a fair chance to secure a lease, but the DLNR opposed it, concerned that a lottery would bring a reduced income. Bills SB 2410 and HB 2270, which were heard during the last legislative session, proposed the lottery but both bills failed to pass.

Chair Canen Ho‘okano said council members have worked hard and diligently, and communication with DLNR has improved since Aila came aboard.

Visit www.kokeeadvisory.org and www.hawaii.gov/dlnr for more information.

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