Salt pond land dispute

LIHUE — A long-standing dispute over a small plot of land in Hanapepe drew a crowd of about 25 South Shore residents to Wednesday’s Kauai Council meeting, adding new fuel to an issue with cultural roots and a complex sociopolitical history.

Former Director of Parks and Recreation, Leonard Rapozo, drafted a request last month for council approval of an Adopt-A-Park agreement with Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala, offering the local hula school stewardship of a 1.182-acre parcel on the north side of Lokokai Road near Salt Pond Beach Park.

What quickly became apparent, however, is that the land already has a steward — many of them, in fact — and they have been there for a long time.

“Our ancestors, descendants, and ohana are practitioners of Paakai (salt makers) and fishing which we still practice on the lands that has remained in our family for hundreds of years,” Emma Mokihana Kali DeCosta wrote in a letter to the council. Attached to her letter was her family genealogy going back five generations to the parents of Kamehameha V.

Gwendolyn Pualani Holi also wrote a letter, saying, “Our ohana has been taking care of the area for generations, and we are still here.”

Attached to the Adopt-A-Park agreement is an executive order signed by Hawaii Gov. David Ige in March, giving the county control of the land on the condition that it “restore the premises to a condition satisfactory and acceptable to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.”

Essentially, the state granted the county stewardship to improve the land, and the county in turn attempted to pass responsibility for the improvements on to the halau. Last week, that attempt ran into an angry roadblock.

The debate apparently began on Facebook and other social media platforms a couple days prior to Wednesday’s council meeting, after some of the people with ties to the land became aware of the proposal and posted messages online opposing the stewardship agreement.

“It has been brought to our attention that the admin is going to ask for a deferral on this,” Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro said, opening the discussion. “They realize there’s groups out there that want to meet and talk about before moving forward on this.”

He could not give a firm date for when the council will reconsider the motion, unsure how long it will take for county administrators to mediate discussions among the concerned parties.

Leina‘ala Pavao-Jardin with the Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala said anyone who knows who she is would understand that “I would never, ever do anything to hurt our Hawaiian people.”

Pavao-Jardin said the argument is due to a miscommunication. Originally, she said she intended to sit down and talk story with everyone down at Salt Pond before entering into any stewardship agreement with the county, but did not know the item would come before the council so soon.

“As for our halau, at this point we would not like to proceed with any stewardship. I would prefer us all to listen to the kupuna of that area,” she said.

Then, turning around in her chair, Pavao-Jardin continued, “but here is where the problem truly lies — is that there is pilikia amongst our ohana down there,” referencing the friction between opposing Hawaiian factions over how the area should be cared for.

An elderly woman behind her quietly disagreed. “It’s between here and there,” she said, pointing to the council.

Director of Parks and Recreation Patrick Porter said officials in his department would act as mediators to facilitate a discussion and later decide whether to pursue some sort of revised stewardship agreement in the future.

Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa asked that the groups try to reach a peaceful resolution. “I don’t think fighting is going to get us anywhere,” he said. “I haven’t seen that work yet. I’ve been fighting my whole life.”

“I see this as the county’s responsibility,” said Councilman Kipukai Kualii, urging the Parks and Recreation Department to be conscientious before attempting stewardship agreements in the future.

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