LIHUE — County officials want Kauai residents to be able to go to every part of the island.
“Access to the shoreline is very important and is what keeps Kauai, Kauai,” said County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.
Public access to beaches goes back to Hawaiian values, said Councilman Ross Kagawa.
“Nobody can own the beach. Nobody can own fishing. That’s sacred in Hawaiian values,” he said. “This is not a new issue. It’s about property owners who want to keep their privacy and the county government wanting to preserve beach access for a precious area.”
On Wednesday, the Kauai County Council discussed the possibility of acquiring a six-foot drainage easement in Koloa, across the street from the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
The easement is located between two beachfront homes along Kukuiula Bay.
While the county has the authority of the easement for drainage purposes, the parcel itself is owned by a private landowner, said Ka’aina Hull, deputy planning director.
The landowners do not want to sell the property, he said.
The proposed acquisition is coming at the request of the Open Space Commission, who said people can no longer access the beach without going onto private property.
“We support this public access because the community has historical connection to it,” said Joesph Figaroa, chair of the Open Space Commission. “Currently access is blocked; the owner has put up a concrete wall, so no one can access it.”
The beach can be accessed by the ocean, but the tides are unpredictable there, so it can be dangerous, Figaroa said.
While the Open Space Commission unanimously approved the project, the Planning Department does not support it because the price tag is too high, Hull said.
The assessed value of the land is about $200,000. But since the landowner doesn’t want to sell, if the county wanted to acquire it, officials would have to go through the condemnation process, Hull said.
The final cost of acquiring the land via condemnation includes attorney fees, so the final price of the land would be closer to about $1 million.
“We don’t believe the expenditure of funds is equal to the public’s needs,” Hull said.
But some of the councilmembers disagreed.
“Issues of public access are near and dear to my heart,” said Councilman Gary Hooser. “It’s important to preserve access to these special areas. This is essentially a private beach enjoyed by two entities and that shouldn’t be allowed.”
Kagawa said the county council should do whatever it can to ensure public beach access.
“We have to do this for our people and the future generations so they can continue fishing in the area,” he said. “If we say ‘No,’ we’re saying ‘You win, private owner, you have your own fantasy island here.’”
A public hearing on the resolution will be held on Nov. 16.
Mel Rapozo, council chair, said he supported the measure so it will go to the people.
“I want to hear from the community and how badly needed this beach really is. At the end of the day, if it benefits the community, then we really need to take a look at making it happen,” he said. “But if it’s going to benefit only a couple people, I’m not sure if it’s worth it. But we owe it to the public to at least get their input.”
The resolution will then go back to council on Dec. 14.