Sheehan condemnation case advances

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council on Wednesday by a 6-1 vote approved $75,000 to hire special counsel to represent the county against Michael Sheehan in a condemnation lawsuit.

“We feel strongly that the Fifth Circuit Court is the proper arena to hear all sides and make a final determination on a fair purchase price,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said in a written statement following the decision. “We all look forward to seeing the long-standing goal of expanding Black Pot beach park move ahead at the earliest possible date.”

Sheehan owns a riverside property behind Black Pot Beach Park in Hanalei, which has been the site of much controversy over the years due to commercial boating operations and other activities. With the Planning Commission pulling his permits, the county has moved forward to buy the land through condemnation. The snag of late has been the council’s concerns over approving the expense of outside legal counsel for the case.

Carvalho said the administration is “delighted” that the county is ready to move forward and bring the land transaction to a conclusion.

Councilman Mel Rapozo was the lone dissenter. He said he too wants to see the expansion of Black Pot Beach Park, but he doesn’t believe the $75,000 will be enough to fight Sheehan in court.

The county will end up spending much more than that, said Rapozo, who supported hiring a state mediator before seeking outside counsel. If that didn’t produce results, then he would have supported hiring outside attorneys.

County Managing Director Gary Heu said the county, since 2009, has made numerous attempts to negotiate the purchase of Sheehan’s property, but was unable to reach an agreement.

The county offered Sheehan $5.89 million, in an effort to reach a “fair purchase price,” based on an appraisal of the fee-simple value of the property in October 2010, according to Heu.

Sheehan never made a counter-offer despite saying he would, Heu said.

“At this point Mr. Sheehan has not provided the county with any additional information regarding the subject property but in fact has increased the commercial activity on his property even after his permits have been revoked by the Planning Commission of the County of Kaua‘i and affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Court,” Heu said.

On Wednesday the council also approved, this time unanimously, an additional $15,000 for outside counsel to keep representing the county in the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which is reviewing the circuit court decision affirming the revocation of Sheehan’s permits.

Heu said the administration feels it is in the best interest of the community to “aggressively” pursue the acquisition of Sheehan’s property, and that the county has made a reasonable offer based on a fair and impartial appraisal.

Sheehan, he added, has been given ample time to respond to the administration’s requests for additional information.

Sheehan and his lawyer, Richard Wilson, in previous meetings have told the council to prepare for an expensive legal battle if the case moved forward in circuit court.

Sheehan has said the county did not include in the offer the value of the permits or the improvements to his boatyard, which cost $250,000 about 25 years ago, and at today’s prices are worth over $1 million, according to his calculations.

But the permits have no value if the court of appeals reaffirms the commission’s decision, officials said.

On Wednesday, Sheehan was in the audience at Council Chambers, but did not testify.

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