Hawaii council approves property seizure for beach access

HILO — The Hawaii County Council has passed a resolution approving a private property seizure through eminent domain to provide public access to a beach.

The council resolution passed Friday potentially sets the stage for the county’s second eminent domain lawsuit over the property in eight years, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

A previous lawsuit failed to seize a trail providing access to Mill Beach in Papaikou. Nearby residents claimed the property owners illegally restrict beach access.

Members of the public are allowed beach access using the trail during the day, but a gate is locked at 6:30 p.m. and owners Charlene Prickett and James Waugh said the trail is completely closed at least once a year.

The council voted in 2012 and again this year to gain control of the trail through eminent domain, which allows government entities to seize private property for public use with due compensation.

The lawsuit stemming from the 2012 resolution failed earlier this year. Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said the lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds that have since been corrected.

Most successful challenges against eminent domain cases challenge whether the government has sufficient public purpose to condemn the property, Kamelamela said.

That defense was not used in the last Mill Beach lawsuit, which Kamelamela said indicates the county has a strong claim.

Prickett and Waugh did not speak during the county council meeting Friday and Kamelamela said the property owners have not discussed the case with his office.

The owners previously said unrestricted public access to the trail led to vandalism and infringed on their right to peaceful enjoyment of their property.

The county planned to serve Prickett and Waugh with eminent domain paperwork following the passage of Friday’s council resolution, Kamelamela said.

The owners will have about 20 days to respond, which will determine the next steps in the case, Kamelamela said.

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