County backs eminent domain
By ERIN MILLER
The County Council took a step toward acquiring an easement along Papaikou Mill Road on Wednesday.
The easement would create permanent beach access to Papaikou Mill Beach, via an eminent domain purchase.
“There’s been plenty of time to make alternate trails,” Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann said before voting in favor of the eminent domain resolution. “Even if this passes today, that doesn’t mean the county is racing out to purchase this property tomorrow. It allows plenty of time for (owners Jim Waugh and Charlene Prickett) to come to some arrangement.”
Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto, who cast one of the two votes against the resolution, said just the threat of eminent domain has prompted the county and landowners in the area to move toward some kind of solution.
“Things have gotten better,” Yoshimoto said. “It sounds like the property owner is doing something consistent with what the county would do. It sounds like we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Testimony about the measure was mostly in favor of the county securing the access easement.
Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd expressed several reservations about the measure.
“In some ways, I don’t think the resolution goes far enough in terms of what you’re acquiring,” she said. “It makes no sense to have an easement if you’re not providing parking.”
The county also needs to think about what kind of warning signs should be posted at the top of the steep access trail, as well as whether the nearby remains of the Papaikou Mill should be fenced off, to prevent injuries, she said.
Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda tried to postpone the vote, asking for the matter to be tabled until the completion of the Hamakua Community Development Plan.
That motion failed, and Ikeda voted against the eminent domain resolution.
“I think it’s kind of premature,” Ikeda said. “It puts their feet on the fire and they have to come up with a solution. I don’t think eminent domain is the right (course) here.”
Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart cautioned the public that a positive vote on Wednesday didn’t mean an immediate resolution to the beach access situation.
“Should this resolution pass, that does not automatically mean tomorrow the access is the county’s,” Smart said. “There’s still further steps, we still have to go through the court system.”
The council voted down a resolution, introduced by South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford, ordering the Finance Department to pay two attorneys for services requested by Council Chairman Dominic Yagong. Ford said Yagong hired the attorneys under his powers as the council’s chief procurement officer.
The council voted unanimously against a measure, introduced by high schoolers, to implement charges for disposing of garbage at county transfer stations.
A long-debated agricultural tourism bill is headed back to the committee level for the new council for review.
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“Corporation counsel basically walked away from us,” Ford said, describing the circumstances in which the two attorneys, Michael Matsukawa and James Kawachika, were retained. “Then we had a council that said we don’t want to listen to these attorneys. All they were able to do is come to the Hilo meeting, try to talk to us. We, the council, refused to even talk to them. We still had no legal counsel.”
Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida disagreed. The council was never without legal representation, he said.
Ford said Ashida told council members Corporation Counsel had a conflict of interest in the situation, which involved an investigation of Elections Division employees.
Ford, Hoffmann, Smart and Yagong voted in favor of the resolution. Ikeda, Yoshimito, North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago and Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi voted against it.
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