The Hawaii County Council passed on Friday a resolution to seize portions of a Papaikou property through eminent domain in order to provide public access to Mill Beach.
The passage of the resolution sets the stage for the county’s second eminent domain lawsuit over the property in eight years, after a previous suit failed earlier this year.
In 2012, the council voted in favor of another resolution to acquire part of a property at the end of Papaikou’s Mill Road that contained a switchback trail leading to the nearby beach. Because nearby residents claimed the property’s owners were illegally restricting access to a beach that should be publicly accessible, the council voted in 2012 and 2020 to use the power of eminent domain — a process, also called condemnation, that allows a government to seize private property for public use, with due compensation — to gain control of the trail.
However, the lawsuit that stemmed from the 2012 resolution failed earlier this year. Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said Friday that it was dismissed purely on technical grounds that have since been corrected.
“There’s a big difference between this one and the last one,” Kamelamela said.
Kamelamela said most successful challenges against eminent domain cases do so by challenging whether the government has sufficient public purpose to condemn the property. That defense was not used in the last suit regarding the Mill Beach trail, which Kamelamela said indicates that the county has a strong claim.
While members of the public are allowed to access the beach via the trail during the day, a gate to the trail is locked at 6:30 p.m., and property owners claim the trail is closed outright at least once per year.
State law guarantees public access to the ocean and Hawaii’s shorelines, leading residents to accuse the property owners of infringing on their rights by impeding the primary access point to the beach.
The current owners of the property, James Waugh and Charlene Prickett, did not speak during the meeting Friday, and Kamelamela said they have not discussed the case with his office either. However, the two previously said that unrestricted public access to the trail has led to vandalism and infringes on their right to peaceful enjoyment of their property.
With the resolution now passed, Kamelamela said the county intends to serve Waugh and Prickett with eminent domain papers as soon as possible.
“I’m hoping we can get it done by the end of this month,” Kamelamela said. “But just to be safe, certainly by the end of the year.”
After serving the papers, Kamelamela said the owners will have about 20 days to respond. That response will determine the next steps in the case.
While Kamelamela said the owners can still challenge the case, he struggled to imagine on what grounds a strong challenge could be based.
“They can challenge it based on the amount of compensation, but that’s not a strong challenge,” Kamelamela said, adding that the county conducted an appraisal of the property — which determined the trail is worth $38,500 — but the owners are free to conduct their own appraisal.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.