Toppled trees upset residents

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Tree stumps now line Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path near Kealia. Ironwood trees were chopped on the makai side of the path.

  • Jessica Else/ The Garden Island

    Noreen Dougherty sits on a pile of stumps that were knocked over during the chopping of ironwood trees along Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path in Kealia.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Noreen Dougherty and Wendy Benton stand next to the chopped and ripped up ironwood trees along Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path near Kealia.

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Noreen Dougherty surveys the area of chopped ironwood trees, near Kealia along Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path.

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 jelse@thegardenisland.com

8 Comments
  1. tunataxi November 10, 2019 6:14 am Reply

    Plant something else there are far better choices than ironwood trees


  2. Palani November 10, 2019 7:26 am Reply

    And how much money changed hands, and to whom, to facilitate such an obvious and egregious violation of the coastline? This didn’t “Just happen.” Someone wanted it to happen, and it was uncharacteristically and expeditiously facilitated.
    There’s a smoking gun here.


  3. Kauaidoug November 10, 2019 7:46 am Reply

    I smell a payoff somewhere. Outrageous!!! Classic example of ask for forgiveness instead of permission. And the name of this landowner? Someone should be fired.


  4. Jason M. Pilalas November 10, 2019 8:06 am Reply

    Individuals made this egregious mistake and individuals should suffer the consequences. Significant docking of pay, fines,, terminations or demotions, or other meaningful penalties are appropriate.


  5. Charlie Chimknee November 10, 2019 9:18 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou,

    Not withstanding the recent tree cutting on the Hike and Bike Path, the section in front of Donkey (Kuna) Beach feels like walking through a Buffalo (Guinea) Grass Tunnel and it blocks the entire view of the only white sand beach between Kealoha and Anahola.

    Perhaps it was all those rains last year, but unless it has recently just not been mowed, whatever the case, going in front of Donkey’s has always before allowed a panoramic extraordinary view both north and south. All the way back to the 1960’s according to old timers who regularly went that way as Haul Cane drivers or surfers, the view was always magnificently open.

    So unless some psycho recently planted and fertilized the Makai side of the Path with Buffalo Grass, there sure has been a natural explosion to its growth.

    So for local taxpayers, and those who don’t, but Importantly for visitor experience and subsequently referral to their neighbors in the rest of the world to visit Kaua’i, it would be nice if the County cut the grass, or goat farmers took advantage of free goat food not requiring fossil fuels to get the job done and open the view plane back up for all to enjoy.

    Where’s Lenny when we need him…?

    The views that nature provides for humans on Kauai are clearly Visual Vitamins and a benefit to Health as is the exercise effort to get there as is the case at Donkeys if coming from Kealia on the Path.

    As a thought, wasn’t the original cane land there owned from Kuhio Hwy all the way to the waves and included the Path, but due to our Mayor at the time, a deal or pressure was struck that the new landowners donated the Path to the county.

    Those original subdividers could have easily felled the trees to benefit their future subdivision million dollar sales back then, so let’s not be too harsh on them. When it comes to blocking world Class Views it’s only a question of when to open the Views of God’s Splendor of the World’s Greatest Ocean.

    Since the milk is spilt, let’s move onto Plan B, perhaps the 2 nice ladies who brought this to the County’s attention can provide a plan to beautify the area again without blocking the view plane for all.

    We would agree that unprofessional tree clear cutting does look like a bad haircut.


  6. Makani B. Howard November 10, 2019 10:04 am Reply

    Parks and Rec? Why would Parks and Rec think they, alone, could allow such a mass clearing of trees? What kind of fools run that place? Sometimes I think we live on such a backwards island, and this type of screw up just proves it! Shame, shame!


  7. rk669 November 10, 2019 5:04 pm Reply

    Nepotism on Kauai? Say it ain’t So! Pay for a View?


  8. Jeff November 16, 2019 8:45 pm Reply

    The other day i overheard a guy talking to the clean up crew saying yeah a little article was written about it but it will blow over.
    That’s the mentality of it. Easier to just chop them down and wave some arms about it, than to deal with community discussions beforehand.


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