Kauai beach trail may close
By Diana Leone
Advertiser Staff Writer
KĪLAUEA, Kaua'i — Battle lines have been drawn over what constitutes appropriate public access to a secluded north Kaua'i beach known as Ka'aka'aniu or Larsen's.
Last month, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources approved a proposal by Bruce Laymon of Paradise Ranch to install a barbed-wire fence across land he leases from the Waioli Corp.
The proposed fence will cut across a well-used, gently sloping trail to the beach over Waioli land that the nonprofit agency and Laymon contend people have used illegally for years, despite their efforts to wave them away.
Those protesting the loss of access say it is part of a historic trail that longtime Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian residents have used to get to the beach for fishing and limu-gathering. As such, under state law, access across the land should continue, they say.
The Sierra Club, Malama Moloa'a, Kīlauea Neighborhood Association, Surfrider Foundation and several individuals filed two separate appeals last week with the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, asking it to overturn DLNR Chairwoman Laura Thielen's Feb. 16 approval of Laymon's permit.
"Instead of fulfilling her public trust and regulatory obligations, Ms. Thielen completely ignored the commercial purpose of the CDUA (Conservation District Use Application) as well as effects of the proposed beef cattle operations on the environment, Native Hawaiian cultural practices and public access to the historic Alaloa trail across the subject property," petitioners said in a March 2 appeal.
Laymon asserted in his request for a permit that the trail is not historic and that people can reach the beach from a nearby county access. He maintains that Waioli Corp. sold the county a strip of land that leads from a county road to the beach in 1979 for public access.
Linda Sproat's Kaua'i family disagrees, since they "have traditionally used the coastal trail mauka of Larsen's Beach for generations," said her attorney, David Kimo Frankel of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. "Paradise Ranch's proposal to build a new fence blocking the trail would impair her rights and that of other Hawaiians."
When the county recently surveyed the land to determine just where its strip of land is located, it found that the county's "access" was until recently blocked by barbed wire fencing. Even with the fence down, the county "trail" descends to the beach via an unmarked way through brush and over boulders that some have described as more suitable for mountain goats than people.
Longtime beach user Raymon Miller was among those who thought a nearby steep but useable trail was county property — until a site visit by officials last fall.
Miller said he hopes discussion among the parties results in one of the following solutions: locate the Waioli fence line mauka of the trail most people are using (the Sierra Club's preferred outcome), even if that means Waioli deeding the land to the county for liability purposes; directing the public to the steeper Waioli-owned access; or the county fixing up its unimproved access to a more useable state, preferably with Waioli and Paradise Ranch assistance.
Laymon said he's always been willing to use his equipment and workers to help improve the county access. However, he said, over the past week some "menehune" volunteers have cleared brush from the county access-way and removed the fence blocking it, making it useable.
Meanwhile, beach users e-mailed photos to the DLNR and media last week of Laymon's workers mowing. They assert that violates a permit requirement against mechanized equipment.
Laymon's understanding is that mowing is fine and that hand tools or limited power equipment is to be used for removal of non- native brush and trees.
Also at issue are Laymon's plans to graze cattle as close as 120 feet from the high water mark, and to clear out brush and trees near the beach. Objectors say they are concerned about the cattle's effect on erosion and water quality, since the land that's being added for grazing is steep.
Laymon said cattle will only be in the near-beach portion of the pasture a few days a year, and that much of his proposed fence line will be 150 to 200 feet from the high wash of the waves because of the steep terrain.
Some who object to losing the gentle path to the beach have questioned whether the whole proposal isn't a backhanded way of clearing out those who camp illegally on the land under cover of bushes and trees.
Laymon said his pasture improvement plan, approved by the National Resources Conservation Service, is intended to improve uplands areas, much of which have already been improved, and improve wild-life habitat in non-grazed areas like those nearest the beach. He said he also hopes removal of nonnative trees and bushes will discourage illegal campers.
Bob Schleck, a director of Waioli Corp., said the non-profit corporation has tried for years to discourage illegal camping, night-time parties and nudity at Larsen's. But campers told to leave come right back, and problems such as vandalism and illegal driving on the trail continue, Schleck said.
There was fresh vandalism Friday, Laymon said. Someone smashed the windshield of a small excavator, and pounded on the radiator and cut the brake and power steering lines on a small mower parked on the Waioli land, he said. He estimated the damage at more than $1,000 and noted that someone could have been injured or killed if they had tried to operate the mower.
"I'm trying to negotiate in good faith," Laymon said. "It's not an easy thing when these things happen."
Laymon also said a man walking on the trail Friday threatened to come back with wire cutters.
NO DECISIONS MADE
County spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said the county is working with Waioli to improve access via the county's unimproved strip of land.
"No decisions have been made, but options are being discussed with representatives from the DLNR and Waioli," Tokioka said. "We hope to be able to provide further details shortly."
Schleck and Laymon said they never intended to block public access to the beach, but don't want people going over Waioli land anymore. Both promised no new fence would be added until a functional county access is in place.
A written statement from Waioli's board of directors said Laymon's plan "has Waioli's full support inasmuch as it proposes a valuable and responsible land management program developed in conjunction with the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and which has earned the support of the federal, state and county governments."
DLNR officials weren't available for comment late last week about how the com-plaints affect Laymon's ability to go forward with his plan, or whether mowing is an acceptable activity.
The DLNR regulates all activity in designated coastal zones, even on private land.
The Waioli Corp. operates the Waioli Mission House, Mahamoku in Hana-lei and Grove Farm in Līhu'e. It also leases about 620 acres in the Lepeuli ahupua'a to Laymon's Paradise Ranch and has land in taro production in Wai'oli Valley.