Shoreline rock wall illegal? Friend of mayor receives pass on permitting

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A well-connected Honolulu architect has been told to stop rebuilding a rock wall on the shore of Lalakea Pond.

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A well-connected Honolulu architect has been told to stop rebuilding a rock wall on the shore of Lalakea Pond.

Robert Iopa, who owns an adjacent vacant lot, commenced with the work under a “Friends of the Park” agreement with Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation. The shoreline is part of Lalakea Pond Beach Park in Hilo’s Leleiwi neighborhood.

But county planning officials, who have local oversight of shoreline development, say the construction on the private and public land occurred without their approval.

“That does not give them (Special Management Area) authority,” said April Suprenant, long-range planning manager with the county Planning Department, regarding the parks agreement.

She said planning asked Iopa to halt work on the rock-and-mortar wall, which appears complete, last month and is drafting a letter regarding additional actions.

His approved SMA permit authorized construction of a 5,500-square-foot home and other improvements, including dry-stack walls on his property.

Suprenant said that did not include grading along the shoreline bordering his lot or work on what remained of the existing rock wall, which would have at least required a shoreline survey.

Iopa is a Waiakea High School graduate, children’s book author and architect who designed University of Hawaii at Hilo’s College of Hawaiian Language building. He couldn’t be immediately reached through email or his cellphone for comment.

Iopa’s book, “A‘ama Nui, Guardian Warrior Chief of Lalakea,” tells the story of a crab warrior that protects the shoreline ponds in the area. He bought his 0.4-acre lot bordering Lalakea in 2012.

In a PBS Hawaii interview, Iopa described Mayor Billy Kenoi as one of his best friends.

But Parks Director Clayton Honma said Friday the mayor, who didn’t respond to a voicemail message Friday, wasn’t involved in the decision to grant the agreement. The document also allows Iopa to replace up to five ironwood trees near his lot with two to three native trees.

He said the designation of the unimproved shoreline as a county park gave them jurisdiction over the matter.

Iopa was not told to consult with the Planning Department or state officials, Honma said.

Suprenant said the parks department is still required to consult with planning for any work it does on the shoreline.

She said the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands might also get involved. Additionally, the wall might have extended onto a neighbor’s lot.

Some Hilo environmentalists and beachgoers have expressed concern about the work, which also included backfilling with gravel.

Pat Tummons, publisher of Environment Hawaii, said it clearly altered the shoreline.

“I’ve been out there to see it, and I’m kind of stunned by how extensive it is as well as the backfill,” she said.

Asked about the public benefit, Honma referred to having the wall maintained, though he wasn’t sure if it served a public use in the first place.

Still, he said he considered its pre-existing condition to have been a safety issue.

“Anything to help the public and improve the situation,” Honma said.

Tummons said she found that argument suspect.

“The only benefit is to the adjoining land owner who built it,” she said.

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While considered a county park, the area is covered with large rocks which users must traverse from the public access point off Kalanianaole Avenue. There is no established trail.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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