KILAUEA — For decades, a legal public trail to the eastern side of Kauapea Beach has been closed. Now, the county is taking legal action to reopen access to the area known as Secrets Beach.
The trail in question leads specifically to Pa’aha’o Beach, also known as Third Beach.
The county filed suit against landowner KAPHA North Shore LLC on Feb. 28 to “affirm the existence of a public beach access trail easement over and across property,” according to the complaint.
Representatives of KAPHA North Shore LLC did not return requests for comment on the suit before deadline.
Residents say it’s about time action is taken to restore that public access, and pointed out the eastern Kauapea Beach trail isn’t the only blocked beach access on the island.
“Legally, it should be a public access but what we see over and over on Kauai is rich people buying out county zoning,” said Dustin Barca, North Shore resident who ran for mayor in 2014. “Why I ran for mayor (was) because on Kauai, money talks and morals walk.”
Pa’aha’o Beach was previously used by the community for fishing, gathering and other recreational purposes and has been since at least the 1890s, according to the complaint.
A public meeting on the issue will be at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center at 7 tonight, with Adam Roversee, Kilauea resident and county attorney working on the suit, presenting the latest progress.
The land is situated along Kauapea Road in Kilauea, above and adjacent to Kauapea Beach and is part of Kilauea Gardens Subdivision on Lot 10, a 203-acre agricultural subdivision divided into 14 lots.
The property in question is 21 acres on an oceanfront bluff overlooking Kauapea Beach near the Kilauea Lighthouse.
The subdivision is located within the Special Management Area and the use permit was granted by the Kauai Planning Commission on March 28, 1977.
That requires the owner and developer of Kilauea Gardens Subdivision to “provide a pedestrian access easement from the proposed new public road to the shoreline, at a location mutually acceptable to the applicant and the County.”
KAPHA North Shore LLC bought the property in November 2011 from Blazer Enterprises, Inc., a Hawaii corporation now dissolved.
The prior owner blocked the public from using the trail, according to a county release, in spite of the community’s history of actively using the trail.
“The blocking of this public access has been a top concern to the community for years,” the county press release states.
KAPHA North Shore LLC is owned or controlled by a trust connected to Russian heiress Ekaterina Rybolovleva, daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.
It was part of a 2013 lawsuit in Oahu First Circuit Court, when Rybolovlev was sued by his estranged wife, Elena Rybolovleva, along with KAHPA North Shore LLC.
Rybolovleva claimed Rybolovlev, was sinking assets into properties around the world, like the Kilauea property on Kauai, to avoid paying up to $3.8 billion in a divorce settlement.
Business Insider reports that the property, along with a second adjacent parcel of approximately seven acres previously owned by actor and rapper Will Smith, is on the market for $29.5 million.
The county began discussions with KAPHA LLC’s Hawaii representative in early 2017.
“Unfortunately these discussions reached an impasse and the mayor concluded that going to court was the only way to resolve this matter,” the county press release states.
And while he’s decided to take legal steps, Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. said he applauds the county attorney’s efforts over the past several years to “hold the landowner accountable.”
“Ensuring all members of the community access to public spaces is our kuleana to honor the wishes of our kupuna and serve present and future generations,” Carvalho said.