‘ALIOMANU — Police were called on a group clearing a path commonly used for beach access that crosses private property yesterday.
A group of about 20 people were pushing aside green waste debris about 2 feet high consisting of palm fronds and tree trunks when Kaua‘i Police Department officers responded to a call of property damage.
This has been a long-standing issue at the end of ‘Aliomanu Road, which Native Hawaiian and neighbors say they have the right to trek through to allow for beach access for fishing and gathering.
This group has been out about four times in recent history clearing green waste, and even a mesh fence, to gain beach access. Over the weekend, more waste had appeared, blocking the path. Residents mobilized, organizing a clean-up of the path Tuesday morning.
Councilmember Mason Chock arrived around 9 a.m. and was approached by the tenants who requested he leave.
Around 10 a.m., members of the Kaua‘i chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Native Hawaiians and neighbors came out in more force to finish the job. The tenants, who would not comment for this story, again came out to request the group stop or police would be called.
By 10:25 a.m., KPD officers had arrived and asked the group to leave the premise or show proof that they were allowed on the property. At this point, clearing the path stalled. KPD was not able to provide a summary report of the call, yesterday.
Nalani Kaneakua and Chock intervened to speak with KPD officers on the side, effectively de-escalating the situation.
“This pathway has been in question for many years,” Chock said.
Over two years ago, the county considered buying the property through the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund Commission, but that fell through because the county who need to then maintain the historical house on the property in addition to the beach access, according to a Garden Island Newspaper article from last year.
In April 2019, the property at 5032 C ‘Aliomanu Road was up for sale and the path was going to be closed. About 20 years ago, the property owner allowed a neighbor to use the pathway to gain beach access, and then more people began using it. Neighbors said potential buyers of the house were scared away last year, and the sale fell through.
Kaneakua uses this path daily, commonly bringing students to monitor the limu indigenous to this area.
“Public access cannot — and should not — be denied,” Kaneakua said. “We come in good faith. I work for the kupuna.”
Private property and no trespassing hang on trees along the path. There is also a bright orange line citing property lines. There is a legal isn’t a legal public-use accessway to the beach in that area, but Hawaiian gathering rights allow users to gain access to the beach.
Hawai‘i state laws, in addition to protecting the right to beach access, also gives access to walk up to the highest level of streamflow. At this site, the trail is against the stream that splits ‘Aliomanu Road.
Chock explained that there’s a bigger picture, too, that speaks to what the property owner is doing.
“This landowner was willing to drop his trash onto a stream bed pathway for his own motives of obstructing native Hawaiians from accessing the ocean for hunting and gathering,” Chock said. “This doesn’t have to happen in 2020 during a pandemic where neighbors should be supporting and helping each other. This beautiful pathway, with its previous owner, has been maintained by the community and never been abused as it was this week.”
The land access dispute, Chock said, would have to go to court to “protect people’s rights when all it really needs is a willingness to listen and work together towards a resolution.”
“For generations, this divide between the have and have nots continues to grow without enough recourse,” he said.
Barbara Widener, vice-chair and co-coordinator for beach cleanup and net patrol for Surfrider, said it’s more than just being able to use this path for beach clean up. Her group stands for ensuring the ocean waters are safe and clean, as well as being stewards for the rights of the Native Hawaiian community.
There is another public access point to the same beach on Kukuna Road, but residents have another reason for the importance of this specific path.
Mason Cawley, who lives in the neighborhood, said that when emergency services are called, they park in his driveway because the tight turn of Kukuna Road is too tight and utilize the ‘Aliomanu path.
Cawley, taken to clearing the path a few times on his own in recent months.
“None of us are really happy about this,” he said.
About a half an hour later, KPD officers again requested the group back-up to county property, but the path was cleared and all was well, Kaneakua said.
“We’re just here for our rights as Hawaiians to clear the path so we can access the beach,” Kaneakua said.