KAWA BAY — The entrance to Kawa Bay is a mishmash of mixed messages.
A bright yellow gate blocks vehicle access and a glaring sign advises, “Government Property. No Trespassing.” But read the small print on the other signs, and you will learn the site is actually open to foot traffic seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Almost three months after Hawaii County evicted Abel Simeona Lui and a group of Native Hawaiians claiming indigenous rights to the 784-acre oceanfront parcel, the property, purchased with taxpayer money through the public lands and open space fund, remains in limbo as the county works with community groups on how best to proceed.
County officials have scheduled a public meeting Wednesday to address community concerns. It’s scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Naalehu Community Center. Mayor Billy Kenoi’s executive assistant, Karen Teshima, and representatives from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources will be there to answer questions and take comments.
Teshima said she’s met with Kawa Bay descendants, surfers, fishermen, kupuna and community members separately, and now she’s ready to bring them together. The goal, she said, is to come up with a management plan that has the community taking over stewardship of the site.
“They have some suggestions on how to move forward, so we’re just going to listen and go from there,” Teshima said.
Lui told West Hawaii Today on Tuesday that Teshima hasn’t met with him, and the county didn’t tell him about the meeting, although officials had notified others who, in turn, contacted him. He plans to attend, he said.
MaryAnn Omerod, a member of a Native Hawaiian family restoring an ancestral hale and other historical features on the site, said her family also plans to attend the meeting.
“They’re hoping to bring everyone together to discuss the future of Kawa,” she said. “I think that’s a great thing. Everyone should be able to go down there, as long as they can be aware of and be respectful of the history there.”
Omerod said her family had ceased working on the old hale when the county closed the site for 30 days to conduct an archaeological survey. The survey is taking longer than anticipated because of the number of burials and artifacts being discovered, but a report is expected next month. More than 60 burials have already been located on the property.
Omerod’s family has resumed cleanup and restoration efforts now that Kawa Bay is open again.
“It feels good to be able to go down there without feeling like someone’s always watching you,” said Omerod.
Her family had been at odds with Lui and had reported to police that some of Lui’s relatives had threatened them and tried to force them off the property. Lui has recently been spotted waving a flag in front of the Kawa Bay access, but there’s no indication he or his relatives have moved back onto the property.
He told West Hawaii Today he’s been visiting the site to check on how it’s being managed. He said a shortage of police patrols has left the property vulnerable to overfishing and people removing too many crabs, opihi and limu. He worries about the archaeological artifacts and burials, too.
“For 20-something years when I lived there, nobody touched the iwi,” Lui said.
A West Hawaii Today reporter’s visit to Kawa Bay on Monday showed a very different place from that revealed in a trek through the property a year or so ago.
Gone are the green and yellow wood-frame house, the lush garden by the freshwater spring, the spectator’s stand for surfing contests, the half dozen or so tents and campsites scattered over the property.
Instead, the pounding of the surf provides a rhythmic backdrop to a breezy nature preserve. Only three other people were enjoying the property on a sunny holiday Monday — a couple who lugged boogie boards down the roughly one-mile path from Highway 11, and a fisherman with nets looped over one arm.
On Monday, an occasional bird called from the woods. A trio of black piglets broke from the undergrowth and raced across the black sand to another hiding spot.
But the site is far from pristine. Shards of broken glass glitter in the bright sunshine near Lui’s demolished home site. Abandoned plastic containers and heaps of debris litter various areas on the property. Handmade signs, rope barriers and plastic pipelines interrupt the natural ambience.
“Now that they removed Abel from the land, now they gotta put somebody on the land and they gotta pay them, when Abel do it for free,” Lui said. “They come and say they own Kawa and they locked it down and now they don’t know what to do with it.”