HILO — The owners of the only trail to Papaikou Mill Beach have made an offer that may be hard for Hawaii County to refuse.
Jim Waugh and Charlene Prickett told the County Council on Wednesday during a tour of their property that they’d build a new trail for the public themselves, expenses included, to prevent the taking of the current route through eminent domain.
The only problem: it would relocate the trailhead to private land they don’t own. And their neighbor isn’t too happy about it.
“This is brand new to me that we’re offering our road,” said Steve Shropshire, who owns the land and road that would provide the starting point for a new trail, during the tour. “A phone call would have been nice.”
Charlene Prickett responded by telling him that the proposal would require their support.
Shropshire said he isn’t inclined to offer his property, which he would like to redevelop as an “agricultural village,” adding he believes the current trail should remain in use.
“I support the current resolution,” he said, referring the proposed eminent domain action, “as it is currently written.”
Still, Shropshire said any future development of the property, now used for agriculture, would include public beach access. Asked why he would oppose access through the land now, he said he doesn’t want to make any changes to the property before the area’s community development plan is finished.
The county is considering purchasing the existing trail and a private road through eminent domain in order to settle dispute over access between beachgoers, frustrated with some restrictions, and the owners.
Prickett and Waugh provide access from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the trail they built after buying the former C. Brewer sugar plantation in 1995.
A less developed trail did exist on the property at the time, Waugh said.
The couple presented their proposed alternative to a meeting that evening in Papaikou attended by more than 300 people, some wearing arm bands supporting acquisition.
“Surfers could come earlier and stay later without disturbing the land owners,” Waugh said.
Prickett apologized for not understanding the public interest in the beach.
“I love this land, the beach, the ocean,” she said. “If in my zeal to protect it my words hurt your feelings, I apologize.”
Prickett added their proposal needs community support and mutual respect to succeed.
“Aloha goes both ways,” she said.
About 40 people signed up to speak on the issue, many giving testimony after presstime.
Those who spoke early urged the council to proceed with securing public access indefinitely, and noted that they or their relatives walked to the beach through the property before the sugar mill closed.
Councilman Donald Ikeda said after the tour he is hesitant to support either proposal, noting the objection from Shropshire.
“I’m not a believer in eminent domain,” he said.
Councilman Fred Blas said the alternative route could work, if it doesn’t get dragged out.
“The other proposal would be better if they do it almost immediately,” he said.
The alternative route would follow the shoreline below the former plantation for about 380 yards.
The current trail is about 50 yards longer.
“Everything along the trail is Hawaii,” Prickett said, noting the route hasn’t been impacted by planting of hardwood trees.
The alternative trail would also require the demolition of the remaining sugar mill buildings at the beach, an expense Waugh and Prickett said they would also cover.
The new trail would run below their house, rather than start at the driveway to their home.
Joel Tessier, a representative of the Surfrider Foundation, said he still supports acquisition of the existing trail after participating in the tour. He said he doesn’t think it’s feasible, noting Shropshire’s objection.
“They are trying to diverge from what Yagong is proposing,” he said, referring to Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who introduced the resolution.
Further testimony on the issue will be taken at the council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday in Kailua-Kona. Testimony can also be given at county offices in Waimea, Pahoa and Hilo during the meeting through a video feed.
The full council will discuss the issue Nov. 9 and Nov. 21.