Proponents of making the trail leading to Papaikou Mill beach public urged Hawaii County Council members on Tuesday to get the process rolling by adding funding for an appraisal to the county budget.
“There are so many in our community that have come out to support public access to Papaikou Mill beach. It’s just overwhelming — it’s older folks, younger folks; local folks, mainland folks, rich folks, poor folks — the whole gamut has come out in full support of making this trail public,” Hilo resident Justin Avery told council members during a budget public hearing at the West Hawaii Civic Center. “The next step would be to pay for an appraisal.”
Hilo resident Cory Harden also expressed her support of Hawaii County’s proposed acquisition of the trail via eminent domain. Harden said Papaikou Mill beach is one of only four major pebble beaches along a 15-mile stretch of the Hamakua Coast. She also said the trail would be the only official public access to the 3.5-mile stretch of shoreline.
“Over 5,000 residents signed a petition to support access at Papaikou,” she said. “Funding an appraisal is the first step of a county purchase of an easement — the appraisal shouldn’t be costly, the higher costs may come later in court.”
Funding an appraisal of the easement for the path and the road to it, as authorized by the Hawaii County Council on Nov. 21, was not included in Mayor Billy Kenoi’s proposed fiscal year 2013-14 budget. That omission drew nine testifiers to the public budget hearing. They asked the island’s nine council members to amend Kenoi’s proposed bill to include funding for the appraisal.
“Eminent domain is rarely a great solution,” Hilo resident Brent Morris said. “Although, in this particular case, it’s evolved over the years to be the only solution for public access to this beach.”
The Papaikou Mill beach trail runs through the property of Charlene Prickett and Jim Waugh, who allow access for about 12 hours a day. Some trail users object to the time restrictions and other rules they have enforced, leading to a push to put it under county control.
“While the landowners have improved and maintained the trail we have limited access, and (they) have prevented many from enjoying the beach, and a lot of people feel like they are trespassing and unwelcome,” said Jennifer Ruggles of Hilo. “For a beach that has been such a community treasure for so many generations, the community and future generations deserve to have this beach and feel welcome.”
Without funding for an appraisal, that push has likely hit a wall unless council members amend Kenoi’s budget. The proposed $370.8 million budget goes into effect July 1.
“It’s disappointing that the administration did not include funds for the relatively modest appraisal,” Chris Yuen of Hilo said. “The council can remedy this by putting an amendment into the budget that would also fund the appraisal at this time.”
In addition to the nine who testified in support of public access to Papaikou Mill beach, two Kona residents asked council members to support funding for various Kona Community Development Plan-identified projects that Kenoi has included in his budget.
The projects include the Kailua Park Master Plan, transit-oriented development in the Kailua Village area and the Kona Open Space Network Plan, said Marni Herkes. The open space plan would use geographic information system tools to identify open space in North and South Kona.
“It’s smart growth planning to identify open space so that when you have a high density community and housing you have open space for recreation and just to give people space to breathe,” Herkes said about the need for the open space plan.