KEALIA — The county Department of Parks and Recreation is under fire after condoning extensive ironwood tree-clearing along Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path between Kealia Beach and Kuna Beach.
And the Kauai Planning Department said it plans to cite Parks and Recreation over what happened.
It all started Monday when Noreen Dougherty was taking a morning walk along the coastal path. Instead of the usual ironwood stand that runs from Kealia Beach to the old pineapple dump, she was surprised to see a clearing, strewn with felled trees.
All of the ironwoods along the makai side of the path were chopped down.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s wrong for so many reasons. It’s going to cause erosion problems, now there’s not any shade here, and it gets hot. People fish down here, too, and they used the trees for shade. ”
Immediately she started making phone calls. Parks and Recreation started investigating and found out their department did approve the work. They reached out to the Planning Department to see if they’d broken the law by approving a plan by a private landowner to conduct that work in a Special Management Area without a permit.
Turns out they did.
“The planning enforcement officer confirmed that the work that took place would have required an SMA permit,” said Wally Rezentes Jr., deputy director of parks and recreation, in a Thursday statement. “As such, planning has notified us that they intend to issue the Department of Parks and Recreation a notice of violation, as they would any other landowner.”
Rezentes said a private landowner reached out to the parks department to help out with landscaping on the makai side of the bike path, and that landowner was granted permission.
He said it was intended to be an example of “a helpful public-private partnership” similar to the Adopt a Park agreements the department does with community groups.
“It was our understanding that the work would include ‘topping off’ of trees and grass cutting, and the owner was granted permission,” Rezentes said. “Unfortunately, the actual scope of work was far beyond what parks had anticipated. However, we are taking full responsibility for what occurred, as we realized after the fact that we did not properly communicate our requirements with the person who coordinated the work.”
Parks hasn’t yet received a formal SMA violation notice, but they’re expecting it. And it generally comes with a fine.
“We realize that doesn’t necessarily make sense, for one county agency to pay another, so we are also considering alternative penalties, such as remediation of the area, which could include planting of native plants to help restore the site,” Rezentes said.
The department is also requiring employees to attend SMA training, and there has been “extensive follow-up with the landowner to ensure his understanding of these requirements as well, and to make it clear that such a project cannot and will not happen again,” said Rezentes.
Fellow community members Jack Yatsko and Bob Reitzner were on the path, Yatsko power-walking next to Reitzner’s bicycle, and were in conversation about the cleared shoreline. Both live in the Kapahi area and use the path daily.
“They (the trees) weren’t even obstructing anything. It’s really garish and unseemly to wipe out all these beautiful trees we see every day,” Yatsko said. “It served a lot of cool purposes, and they’re all gone now. Whoever did this should have posted a flier for a community meeting at the library or something first.”
Fern Holland, a community activist and environmental scientist, pointed out environmental concerns with the tree-clearing, like increased erosion. She also said the coastal ironwoods are common habitat for the endangered ‘ope‘ape‘a, the Hawaiian hoary bat, and an environment study should have been done before the entire potential habitat was cleared.
“Just look at the cost,” Holland said. “Now, this area will need more routine maintenance as it grows back. There’s a process to doing things, and that needs to be respected. This time it wasn’t done correctly, but this is a good opportunity to move forward, following the rules.”
Deputy director of planning Jodi Higuchi Sayegusa said Thursday the Planning Department knows of no active Hawaiian hoary bat nesting habitat or active wedgetail shearwater nests at the site.
“Should any shearwater bird or other species burrows or nestings be discovered, work will cease and an avian expert be retained to inspect the finding. The hired expert shall consider and provide a proper remediation to address the finding,” Sayegusa said in a Thursday statement.
That coastline was the subject of a 1999 lawsuit in which Judy Dalton and fellow Friends of Donkey Beach group members sued the County of Kauai, Planning Commission and Kealia Plantation Company to preserve the coastline.
They settled out of court, resulting in increased coastal setbacks for development in the Donkey Beach area and rules that protected mature trees and landscapes along the coast.
“All existing mature vegetation, with the exception of substantially damaged, diseased or dying trees, shall be retained and maintained,” the settlement agreement says.
On the coastal path Thursday morning, people stopped jogging or slowed their bicycles to say hello and comment on the tree-clearing. Several scoffed at the “arrogance of it all.”
“It shows such a sense of entitlement, a total disregard for the local community,” said Wendy Benton.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com