Public works: Fissure 8 road doesn’t need permit

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald "Kapu" is etched into a lava rock outside a person's property on a newly constructed road at Leilani Estates in Puna.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Malama Street leads into a road that has been constructed near Fissure 8 in Leilani Estates in Puna.

A newly graded road up the side of Fissure 8 in Leilani Estates is not in violation of any permit requirements, a county agency has determined.

Last month, a Leilani Estates resident began grading a road across the lava field just south of Fissure 8 in order to access his property, which had been buried by lava during the 2018 Kilauea eruption.

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While the owner, Sam Estes, had told the Leilani Community Association that he merely wanted himself and other residents whose residences were buried by lava to regain access to their property, he began constructing the road without prior consultation with the association or the county, raising questions about whether the road is legal.

However, Ikaika Rodenhurst, director of the Department of Public Works, said that, based on a county assessment of the road last month, the road does not meet a threshold where a county grading permit would be necessary.

The county requires a grading permit when a grading project excavates more than 100 cubic yards, or if the vertical height of the excavation exceeds 5 feet, or if it affects the drainage patterns of neighboring properties. Because Estes’ road has met none of these thresholds, it does not need a permit, Rodenhurst said.

“We’re monitoring the situation as needed,” Rodenhurst said. “We’ve told (Estes) that if he wants to continue the road much further, he’ll need to get a permit.”

Rodenhurst did add, however, that the actual ownership of the road is still ambiguous. While the road follows the path of the subdivision’s Luana Street, Rodenhurst said it is not yet clear whether the road belongs to the community association as the rest of the roads in the subdivision do.

“At the very least, we know it’s not a county road,” Rodenhurst said.

Some association members are concerned about more residents following Estes’ action.

Robert Golden, association president, said he has consulted lawyers who have told him that permitting the Fissure 8 road could set a precedent for other residents to grade potentially hazardous roads across lava.

“In our view, the situation hasn’t changed (with the county’s ruling),” Golden said, adding that other residents on Luana Street have disapproved of the project out of concerns that it will attract tourists to a one-way residential street.

However, others support Estes’ project, arguing he is exercising his own property rights.

One resident of Moku Street — who asked to remain anonymous, “because there’s a lot of politics here” — visited the road Tuesday and expressed support for Estes.

“I think it’s great,” the Moku resident said. “I think if people have property there, then they have a right to access that property.”

“I think they should be reopening all the roads in here,” he went on. “All the roads.”

Golden said that the association had intended to hire an Oahu contractor to assess the safety of a possible Fissure 8 road, but Estes had acted on his own without association approval.

Members of the association will discuss the issue during a community Zoom meeting this week, Golden said.

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Estes did not respond to requests for comment.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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