Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024|
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Hawaii County could be asked to maintain some deteriorating private roads under a new County Council bill.
At a Tuesday meeting of the council’s Policy Committee on Health, Safety and Well-being, Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder proposed a measure that would allow the county to perform maintenance on certain qualifying “private, nondedicated and nonsurrendered roads” in order to ensure continued access to parts of the island in the event of an emergency.
Under the terms of the bill, people who collectively own 60% or greater interest in a given road’s “fee title or appropriate roadway easement” — essentially, 60% of a road’s owners — would be able to submit a request to the director of the Department of Public Works for maintenance, which could be granted if the road meets certain requirements.
Eligible roads would be private roads serving 50 or more parcels or residences that are open to, serve and “benefit the general public. If maintaining those roads is determined to be necessary to protect the safety of drivers, “or is otherwise in the public interest,” the county could maintain those roads by patching, resurfacing or repaving the road surface.
Although Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder promptly postponed action on the bill until September — saying he wanted more time to polish the measure following discussions with county agencies — the proposal prompted support from Puna residents worried about the accessibility of their subdivisions.
Jim Hoffman, president of the Hawaiian Acres Community Association, said his subdivision is comprised of 70 miles of private roads that he called “rough, and in some cases, even rougher.” The poor quality of those roads, he said, makes it difficult for emergency responders to quickly react to calls in the subdivision.
Puna resident Stephanie Bath drew comparisons to the wildfire disaster in Lahaina, stressing the need for road redundancy in the case of critical roads being cut off during an emergency.
“We need connections between subdivisions outside of pulling onto Highway 11, driving to the next subdivision, and pulling off, causing gridlock,” Bath said.
“You want economic development? You need roads,” said Puna resident Jon Olson bluntly. “You want health and safety? You need roads? … Do you want a successful district? You need roads.”
Nathaniel Burke, resident of Kopua Farm Lots, wrote that improving access into subdivisions also would have the effect of reducing local crime.
“We have a persistent problem with drug trafficking in our neighborhood and have been working closely with police to fight this,” Burke said.
“Any road improvements would help make their response faster and more effective.”
While Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder’s fellow council members lauded the intent of the bill, many agreed that it needs additional work.
Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball questioned whether several elements of the proposal are wise, practical or even legal.
For example, Kimball guessed that a provision in the bill that waives the county’s liability for any injury or property damage arising from the county’s maintenance of a private road could not possibly pass legal muster or protect the county from liability in any way. Similarly, she questioned what criteria would determine whether a road “benefits the general public,” which is not specified in the bill.
Kimball also said that the county might legally need buy-in from 100% of owners instead of only 60%, and asked whether the emergency access problem might be better solved by simply condemning vital roads outright, putting them wholly under county control through a well-known, preexisting process.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder moved to postpone action on the bill until Sept. 5, whereupon, he assured, the measure will have better answers for his fellow council members’ concerns.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.
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