Big Island surfers rally for public access to popular site
By John Burnett
HILO — An apparent misunderstanding over access to the beach below the old Papaikou sugar mill has put surfers on one side of the fence and landowners on the other — literally.
"There is no public access, only private property down to the beach," said county planner Larry Brown. He added that, contrary to a commonly held belief, while all Hawaii beaches are public, it is illegal to cross private property without permission to get to a beach, even if there is no other route.
Charlene Prickett and her husband, James Waugh, bought the former C. Brewer mill in 1995, cleaned up the property and built a home. A switchback trail that Waugh cut on the property is the only way to walk to the beach local surfers call "The Mill." There's a gate that, Prickett said, is almost always open to the public in the daytime, and is closed at 6:30 p.m.
There's also a sign that details the rules for access, such as no littering, no alcohol or drugs, no cars or bicycles, and no dogs or other animals. She said recent closures were on Good Friday and during the tsunami warning Feb. 27.
Of beach visitors, Prickett said "99 percent abide by the rules," but she and Waugh call police when they observe "bad behavior" on the property.
The beach brouhaha started brewing March 6, a Saturday, when four local surfers, all men in their early 20s, hopped the gate and were arrested for misdemeanor trespassing.
The gate was closed that day for two reasons, Prickett said — for maintenance, and "to follow the direction of the community police department who suggested we close now and then to demonstrate that we really are private property."
"After that incident, it kind of sprung up an uproar in the surfing community," said Whitney Soares, a local surfer. "And we kind of felt like, 'Why does she have the right to do this? What gives her the power to close up the gate?' "
Soares and friend Anna Liu circulated an e-mail on Tuesday "trying to get the community informed" and accusing Prickett of "not allowing anymore beach access."
The e-mail, which was also sent to the Tribune-Herald, caused a flood of calls and visits to the county's Planning Department.
The e-mail urged people to wave signs tomorrow morning along Highway 19 by local landmarks Pinky's and Baker Tom's, urging passersby to "save Papaikou Mill."
Soares said she has since talked to Brown, the county planner, and has changed her perspective on the issue.
Soares said she's now hoping to raise funds to help the county buy a public easement to the beach.
"Maybe if the mayor and the county see that we feel really strongly about this beach, and we want to raise money for a public access and see if we can fix it down there, hopefully, we can."
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Read the complete story in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald: http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/articles/2010/05/13/local_news/local02.txt