LIHU‘E — Wednesday, the Kaua‘i County Council decided to move forward with the condemnation of land between the Island on the Beach Resort and ocean, ensuring another section of the Ke Ala Hele Makalae shared-use coastal path can be completed in Waipouli.
The vote was 6-1 in favor of the resolution allowing the county to move forward with the process of condemnation of a 0.3-mile strip of land currently owned by Islander on the Beach. Councilmember Felicia Cowden as the only dissenter.
The county already owns an easement between Lava Lava Beach Club and IOB that allows beach access, and needs additional land to have space to build the 12-foot path. Additionally, the county will seize an easement fronting IOB and re-do the existing, five-foot path, to bring it to county standards.
The Wednesday decision is critical to securing $1.5 million in Federal Highway Administration funding, according to an April 19 memo from county Department of Public Works Acting County Engineer Troy Tanigawa.
To get these funds, there’s a May 31 deadline for submittal of finalized project documents. And while the full condemnation process will not be completed by then, council approval can be used for this funding.
Without the decision, the county would have had to wait until federal fiscal year 2026, which begins October 2025, to reapply for more funding, Doug Haigh, DPW Building Division head, told the council.
Council Vice Chair Mason Chock pointed to this timing as one of the reasons for his “aye” vote, despite voicing that the county should lead by example in not developing along the coast, and raising other environmental concerns.
A final environmental assessment for this phase of the path was made in 2007, with the state, county and U.S. Department of Transportation.
Ruby Pap, a coastal land-use extension agent with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program and the county’s Planning Department, said that UH is in the process of recalculating different sea-level-rise scenarios. Pap said there has been enough data generated with past data to move forward.
“It’s on decision-makers to discuss tolerance for risk,” Pap said. “Based on the nature of the development proposed, in this case, it’s the path, what is the county’s tolerance for risk of that?”
Councilmember Luke Evslin said that, in a perfect world, the council would have the decision of a more in-land path and the one presented at the meeting.
“I think it’s our responsibility to choose from the imperfect options,” Evslin said, stating this decision was in favor of lateral access along the coast. “I support the vision of a connected path, and I don’t want to put that on hold for six-plus years.”
Continuing, Evslin said he hopes in the future that “if and when this part gets washed out,” there will be discussions on moving the path inward.
Last week, the IOB board rescinded its approval of the condemnation’s Property Adjustments Agreement, which The Garden Island reported and confirmed with a board member.
Haigh told the council there has been no formal rescinding of the approval, but said IOB has since spoken with the county on using permeable pavers for the path rather than impervious concrete, which requires more maintenance. With the IOB board’s approval, the county would pay about $24,300 for the easement.
Alternatively, to move five feet more inward with an easement would cost the county around $91,000, Haigh estimated, and $137,000 for 10 feet, valuing the land at about $15.46 per square foot.
Construction of the path will be around $700,000 in the area, Haigh relayed, that would be covered by federal money.
“We will have to pay some fee to acquire portions of the land, and then everything else would be federal money based on our type of matches,” Haigh said. A soft match has been established with volunteer efforts in the past, and there are still funds there, Haigh said.
Cowden, knowing her vote would be the lone in opposition, reiterated environmental concerns, specifically about the concrete material being used to construct the 12-foot path along the coast.
While the county is doing research into potentially using a boardwalk structure rather than concrete for the path, the current plans are for concrete. Haigh said there’s always the possibility to confront that later on in the design process, or by making a change order in the future.
“I know I won’t win, and I will lose a lot of happiness with people who want this to happen, but I feel pretty confident that we are going to ruin the beach-front right there, particularly where the lateral path will be turned into a hardened surface,” Cowden said. “I want the path to continue, but I need greater flexibility (in this resolution).”
Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro was the only one who did not get a chance to visit the path in the recent weeks, but FaceTimed with Councilmember Billy DeCosta when he was out there earlier this week.
Prior to the vote, the council had six speakers in support and six people speaking in opposition and received two petitions — one in favor and one against — in addition to numerous letters both for and against the resolution.
Many in support of the path spoke of the general use of the path and the importance of seeing the plan, which began in the 1990s, through. With this acquisition, the county can move forward with the fourth segment of a third phase of the path, to connect Lydgate Park through Kapa‘a.
Speaking about the desire to acquire the land to develop the path as a way to keep access to the coast in perpetuity, Kaua‘i Path Executive Director Tommy Noyes discussed the extensive work that has been done thus far, including partnerships at the county, state and federal levels, and the amenity beloved by visitors and residents alike.
“All of Kapa‘a is close to sea level, hence all of Kapa‘a is at risk of sea-level rise,” Noyes said. “Despite this fact, it is the host community for the Royal Coconut Coast Association members and is a fast-growing visitor destination. The opportunity to invest federal transportation dollars for a walking-path system that bolsters our local economy while benefiting the resident population is coming to fruition.”
Those against the condemnation were not speaking out against the path or trying to restrict public access to the beach, but spoke with concern for coastal erosion, the safety of the path in the small area for people and native birds, and flooding that would occur with concrete added to the area.
Julio Magalhaes, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club Kaua‘i Group Executive Committee, pointed to the Hawai‘i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report issued by the Hawai‘i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission in 2017.
“Through council’s ‘yes’ vote today, they chose not to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis,” Magalhaes said after the meeting. “Instead of basing the route of this section of the multi-use path on the latest climate science, the council chose expediency, funding and wishful thinking.”
This story was updated at 8:20 a.m. on April 22 for clarity.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.