The entrance to the beach in Papaikou warns pedestrians with many signs that it is private property and certain behavior and actions will not be tolerated. Council chairman Dominic Yagong will hold a community meeting at 6 p.m. today in the Papaikou Gymnasium to consider providing a pedestrian public access to the beach. (Tribune-Herald/HOLLYN JOHNSON)
The entrance to the beach in Papaikou warns pedestrians with many signs that it is private property and certain behavior and actions will not be tolerated. Council Member Dominic Yagong will hold a Papaikou Community Meeting on Friday September 21, 2012 in the Papaikou Gymnasium at 6:00 p.m. to consider providing a pedestrian public access to the beach. (Tribune-Herald/HOLLYN JOHNSON)
A public meeting tonight will test the waters for possible eminent domain action over access to Papaikou Mill Beach.
Feedback from the meeting tonight at Papaikou Gym will be considered in a preliminary step that may lead to Hawaii County securing public beach access. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.
The problem has been simmering for a few years. The owners, Jim Waugh and Charlene Prickett, bought the old sugar mill in 1995 and, according to the county, are the owners of the only land-based access to the beach popularly known by surfers as The Mill.
Opposing them are the many people who have grown up fishing, picking opihi and surfing at the beach. Waugh and Prickett have built a fence around the property, but they allow access to the beach through a gate most days. The surfers use a trail that Waugh bulldozed to the beach; some cite evidence that a public right of way existed in the 19th century.
Under a timeline set by Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, tonight’s meeting will allow Yagong to gather community input on the eminent domain resolution. The County Council’s Finance Committee will hear the resolution at its Oct. 2 meeting. At that time, if he has three votes in favor, Yagong will call for an evening public hearing in Papaikou to be held between Oct. 8 and Oct 12. Council members may also go on a site visit, he said.
The Finance Committee will vote on the condemnation resolution again Oct. 16 and send it up to the full council for the first of two readings. If the resolution survives the first reading Nov. 9 and the second reading Nov. 21, it will have the force of law, and the Office of the Corporation Counsel will prepare a condemnation lawsuit.
Yagong said the idea for an eminent domain acquisition came from members of the Hamakua-Hilo coast. Former Planning Director Chris Yuen helped to draft the resolution.
While some believe the public access available today is adequate for the community, others are strongly in favor of Hawaii County acquiring the beach access, Yagong said. One of the leaders of the fight to open the beach access is Kalani Lyman, a descendant of the famous 19th century Hilo missionaries David and Sarah Lyman.
“My family’s been going there for six generations,” Kalani Lyman said.
In 2010, Global HOPE, a student advocacy group at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, found a map from 1877 that appeared to show a trail that goes down to the beach, which made it a public right of way under the Highways Act of 1892.
In the past, Waugh has disputed that interpretation, saying the sugar mill had kept the property closed during the century or so that it was in operation.
Lyman has offered to build a fence along the trail to shield surfers from view of Waugh and Prickett, but the landowners declined.
Lyman’s group has enlisted the help of Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who is organizing tonight’s meeting, in an effort to settle the issue. Lyman wants the beach to be open to the public around the clock.
“We got to keep open access to the ocean,” Lyman said. He has circulated a petition and received 5,000 signatures in support of the condemnation.
“I’m hoping we have a good crowd, because everyone’s pumped in the community,” Lyman said. “I can guarantee it’s going to be a packed house.”
Lyman says he was once friends with Waugh and Prickett. Now, the distrust runs so deep that Lyman suspects Waugh will “probably send some of her spies” to observe tonight’s meeting.
Waugh and Prickett could not be reached for comment, but people who answered the phone at their home Thursday said the couple were surprised to hear about the meeting recently.
Yagong said the two are off-island, and that they were the first to know about the public meeting when the chairman announced it on Monday.