The relinquishment by the territorial government of a portion of a historic trail has come back to haunt residents of Hawai`i County. For centuries, the Ala Loa ran along the western coast of the Big Island. In 1938, however, a stretch of it that traversed an area that is now the site of a luxury subdivision was given up in exchange for land that would allow the Kohala Mountain road to be built.
The 63-acre subdivision, known as Kohala Kai, has been in the planning and permitting stages since 1999. Since it was first proposed, the land was purchased by a company owned by Ernest W. Moody, inventor of a video poker game. Lateral pedestrian access along the coast was a requirement of subdivision permits, and last year, the county planning director at the time, B.J. Leithead-Todd, and Moody’s attorney, Steven Lim, agreed to a plan to implement that condition.
Only last summer, after it had been submitted to and signed by Mayor Billy Kenoi, did the plan come up for discussion by the public access subcommittee of the North Kohala Community Development Plan Action Committee. Members of the subcommittee and other residents expressed their dismay at the final alignment of the path. Although for years a jeep trail had been used by residents that followed, more or less, the Ala Loa, under the plan agreed to by the county a paved golf-cart path would be laid over the trail’s alignment. Lateral public access would be along a 10-foot-wide path much closer to the rocky coastal scarp than the old trail was. Access to what the community members claim is the old Ala Loa would be limited to just two segments of the pedestrian path that coincides with the golf-cart path, which otherwise is for the exclusive use of subdivision lot owners.
Adding insult to injury was the placement of the required public parking lot that can accommodate three vehicles. To get from the parking lot to the trailhead involves walking along the shoulder of the busy Akoni Pule highway, where the speed limit (observed mainly in the breach) is 55 miles per hour.
Before the public can use the trail, the County Council must vote to accept it. After the council’s Finance Committee deferred a vote on recommending the agreement to the full council last December, the developer and Planning Department staff tried to come up with a draft that would be more palatable. A draft agreement presented to the Finance Committee on January 21 expanded the pedestrian right-of-way to 20 feet, but did not address any other issue, including maintenance or restoration of the Ala Loa.