Members of one of West Hawaii’s canoe clubs are facing eviction from the halau where they store their canoes.
Kona Athletic Club received notice Aug. 20, less than two weeks before the biggest paddling event in West Hawaii, to vacate the storage shed they had been using at the Old Kona Airport Park for years.
County officials defended the decision to evict Kona Athletic Club, citing concerns about safety violations, allegations that Kona Athletic Club is running a business out of the county property and years of asking the club to find a new halau for its canoes.
Kona Athletic Club President Bill Rosehill denies the county’s claims that there’s anything that could be considered a safety violation within the shed and insists he’s not running a business. He offered West Hawaii Today and county officials about a dozen letters supporting his claims that he did not charge for many of the repairs he and other club members performed within the storage shed.
“Bill has helped many canoe clubs over the years when their equipment has failed or been damaged,” former Waikoloa Canoe Club coach Jeb Goss wrote last week. “I am sure I am not the only one to say, if Bill were shut down we would have no one that could do the work needed in as professional and timely manner as he can. His work is usually agreed upon with a handshake and a donation to his nonprofit canoe club. The sport would suffer if he were displaced.”
Gerri Hala Latu, vice president of Tui Tonga Canoe Club, wrote of thousands of dollars in repairs Rosehill performed free of charge for that club, as did several other canoe owners and club members.
Rosehill has, about half a dozen times in the past, brought in canoe builders from Tahiti to help form koa hulls, then sold the canoes as a club fundraiser.
“I’ve been doing this and other clubs have been doing this for 43 years,” Rosehill said. “We do car washes outside the canoe halau. We’re using county equipment and county facilities.”
County officials have long been aware of that, he said. He questioned the eviction notice’s timing, so close to the Queen Liliuokalani Canoe races which begin this morning. Rosehill spent much of this week preparing for the race and loaning canoes to teams from around the world.
Kona Athletic Club has 10 wooden canoes, including six made of koa, and five fiberglass ones. The canoes cannot be stored without being covered, and the club has housed its canoes at the county property for years. Many years ago, officials met with five West Hawaii clubs and guaranteed two — Kai Opua and Kona Athletic Club — that they would eventually have access to new halau sites within the Old Kona Airport Park. The state, which then owned the park, poured concrete and began work on the halau, but when Gov. Ben Cayetano succeeded Gov. George Ariyoshi, the remaining money dedicated to the project was diverted, leaving the concrete pads referred to by West Hawaii residents for years as “Stonehenge.”
Rosehill said after Kai Opua successfully raised money to complete its halau, county officials, including then Parks and Recreation Director Bob Fitzgerald, met with him and other clubs in 2011.
“What they said was they were going to build a second halau and it was already earmarked for Kona Athletic Club by a prior agreement,” Rosehill said.
Fitzgerald, now the deputy director, said he remembers talking about the county building the second halau, but said it was Rosehill who insisted that the site was supposed to be set aside for Kona Athletic Club. That entitlement dates back to when the state controlled the property, he added.
Fitzgerald and Parks and Recreation Director Clayton Honma said their concerns come down to the safety violations outlined in the eviction notice and the allegations that the club is running a business.
A halau “is made to be a place of storage, not a workshop,” Fitzgerald said.
Honma said he can’t see allowing Kona Athletic Club to remain beyond the Sept. 11 deadline.
“It’s not a viable solution,” Honma said Friday. “It’s not conducive for taxpayers. We’ve given him a lot of time to vacate the place and take back that location.”
The county initially asked Kona Athletic Club to leave the halau by the end of October 2012, in a June 14, 2012, letter.
Rosehill said moving without the new halau being finished isn’t an option.
“It was unfeasible to go someplace else,” he said, adding his wood canoes are 45 feet long and weigh about 400 pounds. “Where do I go?”