Lighthouse roadblock draws public ire

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald

    Rocks and concrete barriers block access to Lighthouse Road at the end of Highway 132 in Puna.

Concrete barriers erected by the county to block access to Lighthouse Road in lower Puna by all-terrain vehicles, and four-wheel-drive trucks and sport-utility vehicles have drawn the ire of some members of the public.

According to the county’s Kilauea Eruption Recovery newsletter for May, the barriers were installed “to prevent trucks and all-terrain vehicles from driving over the flow and trespassing on private property.”

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“The area around Kumukahi, at the end of the road, includes sensitive natural and cultural resources, and there are no lifeguards nor public facilities, such as restrooms,” the newsletter, which is available online at recovery.hawaiicounty.gov, reads.

Access to the gravel road, partially inundated by lava, is at the so-called “Four Corners,” across Highway 132 where it ends at an intersection with Highway 137. The road leads to the Cape Kumukahi lighthouse and a cemetery — and used to lead to the once popular Champagne Pond swimming hole, which was wiped out in the 2018 Kilauea volcano eruption.

Mayor Harry Kim said Thursday a portion of the road “was only rough-graded,” and he said property owners in the area were concerned about people trespassing on private property “to walk down to the beach and use it as a parking lot.”

“My understanding is, a landowner who has property there was very concerned about ATVs and vehicular traffic going to the beach, and so requested barriers. And immediately, barriers were erected,” said Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who wants the road restored for public access.

Kierkiewicz said a public petition was presented to the County Council seeking the reopening of Lighthouse Road.

James Lehner of Keaau, who said he and his wife lost their home to lava in June 2018, said in a letter to the Tribune-Herald that driving out to the lighthouse was one of their favorite pastimes after hearing some individuals did enough rock moving and grading to provide four-wheel-drive access.

“On May 3, 2020, we took our tired old Jeep on the road, which we heard was open enough to pass and enjoy the beauty of the area and watch the many others again fishing, camping or just sitting along the coastline. It was good to get back to the area we love and had been cut off from for 2 years, and see again many people enjoying the beach, about 30 vehicles in all,” Lehner wrote.

Lehner wrote that he and about 20 others met with Kim on April 23, 2019, and was told Lighthouse Road would be reopened once FEMA funding came through.

“The funds have arrived,” wrote Lehner. “Now the County of Hawaii, (which) is in financial straights, has somehow found the money to spend thousands of dollars to put up 10,000 lb concrete barriers, rocks and ‘No Trespassing’ signs to block the public from accessing the ocean … .”

Lehner also worried the county used FEMA funding — which is only provided on a reimbursement basis — to erect the roadblock. Kim said the county paid for the barriers.

Another writer, Michael Gusman, said the roadblocks are “a problem that has caused many to become angry.”

“I don’t understand at a time like this, why?” Gusman wrote. “We have lost so much to lava and now this.”

Gusman also called for the barriers to be removed and the road to be restored.

Kierkiewicz said she’s been for restoration of Lighthouse Road “since Day One, especially considering we still have homes that weren’t taken by lava that want to go back,” referring to a small handful of Kapoho Beach Lots homes that were spared.

“And to be able to help them to go to their home, to their sanctuary, that’s paramount,” she added.

“On top of that, there is an amazing resource there, this expansive black sand beach. And considering all of the natural assets that were just taken during the eruption, this is a gift for the community.”

The newsletter said the county “is exploring ways to provide managed access to this area in order to protect natural and cultural resources and public safety. No decisions have been made at this time.”

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“They’ve been saying that from the very beginning,” Kierkiewicz responded. “We’re trying to get people home. We’re trying to get access to the beach in a very safe and pono way. Open up access. It is our kuleana.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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