Kawamoto to check on trees
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
Overgrown trees in Kahalu'u that neighbors say have posed a hazard for years could finally be trimmed now that their owner, Japanese billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto, says he will address the situation.
In a press released dated Wednesday Japan time, Kawamoto said he has directed his Honolulu attorney to get more information about the issue raised in a Jan. 22 letter from the state Civil Defense.
"I expect to come to Hawai'i in late April and plan to inspect the property myself and supervise any remaining remedial measures that need to be implemented," Kawamoto said.
Kawamoto said he was responding to a Feb. 8 Advertiser story about "alleged" overgrowth of trees on his 131-acre Kahalu'u property.
The Advertiser had asked for a comment for the article on Feb. 5 but it was already the next day in Japan — Saturday — and his office was closed and unable to respond, he said.
Kawamoto said he has asked Civil Defense for the exact location of the problem trees and proposed remedial measures.
"Upon receiving the requested information from the Hawaii Civil Defense, I will determine the condition of the property, priority of remedial measures and select appropriate contractors to handle remedial measures," he said.
The declaration is good news to Kawamoto's neighbors on Mä'elieli Ridge in Kahalu'u, who say they fear that some of the trees may crash into their homes during a storm or as the hillside erodes and weakens the root system of the trees.
Art Machado, who has raised the issue for years on behalf of his neighbors and himself, said people were very happy to hear the news.
"Finally, things are happening. because this has been at least a couple years like dead in the water," said Machado, a Kahalu'u Neighborhood Board member. "It's for the good of the people."
Under a new law known as Act 76, the state Civil Defense, after determining that an environmental hazard exists, can remove the problem and bill the property owner.
Since the law took effect last year, Civil Defense has received more than 39 complaints.
The possible hazards being investigated include rocks, stream debris and drainage. But 21 of the reported hazards are from overhanging trees, and 13 of these are in Kahalu'u on property owned by Kawamoto. He owns 131 acres on Mai'ele'ele Ridge between He'eia and Kahalu'u. His property borders more than 50 homes.
He also owns other Hawai'i properties.
Civil Defense has sent letters to some of the property owners involved, including Kawamoto, advising them of the hazard in hopes that they will take care of the problem.
Ed Teixeira, vice director of Civil Defense, said he's delighted with Kawamoto's response to his letter. Teixeira said he met with Kawamoto's attorney last week and informed him of new areas of concern.
"I told his legal team we want to keep the channels of communications open," Teixeira said. "It can work both ways. They can come to us with any concerns from Mr. Kawamoto. It's kind of like opening doors to a new era to make sure that things are OK."
Teixeira said he also explained to them that Act 76 wasn't passed to focus on one individual . The law will allow the department to address hazards and potential hazards during non-emergency periods.
"It does create some work for state Civil Defense but we'll work through it," he said.