By Brandon Roberts
A panoramic view shows majestic Halawa with Kama'alaea Bay, the center of current land-use issues, in the upper right. Some of the campsites in question are in Kama'alaea Bay.
Halawa — the gateway to the world’s highest sea cliffs and a handful of steep, storied Molokai valleys — is also home to a land use conflict between campers and Pu’u O Hoku Ranch.
The ocean is alive, thunderous on this north shore where calm is a relative term. Boats embark with faith and trust into these remote island reaches during the brief summer months to collect opihi and the freshwater hihiwai, or to access family lands within Pelekunu or Wailau as well as recreation.
Land use and beach campsites in Kama’alaea Bay in Halawa have long been problematic. Some residents refer to the situation as a “can of worms.” The metaphor is apt as all parties involved consider the land and access to it as “theirs,” either through Western concepts of land ownership or indigenous family ties and gathering rights.
Some of the temporary campsites in Halawa have become more permanent than Pu’u O Hoku Ranch would like.
This question of ownership and access restrictions is at the center of the debate. The land in question is Pu’u O Hoku Ranchlands. Yet access to this area crosses several private properties owned by long-standing Halawa families and their descendents now fighting for continued use.
Current Pu’u O Hoku Ranch owner Lavinia Currier had prior agreements with these campers, which, she wrote in a recent press release, were “not honored.”
“Several years ago, we met with the longer term campers as a group and it was agreed to limit the time of camping within specific guidelines,” Currier stated. “Now, more years have gone by and this fall we received a notice from the County of Maui regarding the illegality of the semi-permanent camps and their latrines, which violate county rules.”
Water use and conservation are consistent island issues and, according to Currier, “these landowners were also concerned that the water use by the campers in increasing numbers for longer periods of time had begun to impact their water levels, essential for their farms and lo`i (taro patch).”
Earlier this spring, the Ranch issued a 90-day notice to have the campsites and latrines removed along the Kama’alaea shoreline.
Currier notified the community that the structures would be removed and materials donated if not cleaned up by Oct. 31.
On Nov. 10 a bulldozer owned by the Ranch and a police car made an appearance in Halawa, but to date the structures remain. Some of the more recently constructed campsites are not intended for seasonal removal, with posts sunk deep in the sand and a skeleton of walls and roof set to handle the unbridled trades and considered “semi-permanent” by Currier.
One camper said he still honors the original agreement and removes his campsite after every use and wishes others did the same.
Campers and their extended families share mixed emotions on the use of the beach and bay. Native gathering and access rights are evoked in defense of the camper’s position. Yet some elders do not remember the campers being there before the bridge was built. In ancient times people not from the Halawa ahupua’a (district) were not allowed access without proper protocol and permission.
Pu’u O Hoku Ranch spans 14,000 acres across Mana’e, Molokai — the island’s east end from Kumimi to Lanikaula and Pohakupili to Halawa ike. It has a shaky past with Mana’e from the time of Ranch owner George Murphy, who installed the current bridge over Halawa stream, bulldozing many lo’i in the late 1970s. The accompanying road was carved through private property and ultimately allowed vehicle access, boat launching and camping in Kama’alaea Bay.
A bridge across the Halawa stream did exist before the 1946 tsunami, but this was county property and existed closer to the mouth of the stream into the bay.
Before Murphy, Pu’u O Hoku lands in Halawa were under the stewardship of Bishop Estates, which evolved from the King’s Lands of 1840. Near the bay is the City of Refuge for the Halawa district as well as a sacred Kamani Grove commissioned by Kamehameha V.
Issues of land ownership are sensitive within the islands of Hawaii and many do not dare to open this proverbial “can”. The circumstances are being handled delicately with a hope that balance and resolution are found while avoiding a potentially volcanic situation.
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