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Pololu Valley lookout plans in the air

“How good are you at backing up?” Paul Ishikuro asks the driver trying to find a spot to park his SUV in an increasingly crowded lot overlooking scenic Pololu Valley.

With Ishikuro’s help, the vehicle eases into a parking stall and Ishikuro turns his attention to the next would-be hiker or sightseer.

“Everything starts with safety,” he says, gesturing at the overflow of cars parked along the narrow mountain road below the 12-stall parking lot.

A train of cars still drive up to the overlook daily and line the road as they park. But they’re a little more organized than they used to be, thanks to a new Pololu Trail Steward Program, a pilot project in collaboration with Kupu, Na Ala Hele Trails and Access Program, and local families, funded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority as part of its Hawaii Island Destination Management Action Plan.

As one of the stewards, Ishikuro’s not just helping with parking, but also educating hikers about the cultural significance and the dangers in hiking down to the valley floor and swimming in the rough seas there. In July and August alone, helicopters had to rescue nine people in the valley, he said.

“It’s a nice trail but it can be dangerous for some,” he said.

A plan to donate land for a parking lot and comfort station at Pololu Valley lookout in exchange for help subdividing a parcel there hasn’t been abandoned, but developer Surety Kohala Corp. is in the meantime moving forward on a different subdivision plan.

A year ago, the state Land Board unanimously approved a request from the Department of Land and Natural Resources to become a co-applicant with Surety Kohala Corp. and KP Holdings in an application to the county Planning Department for lot consolidation and re-subdivision and any other permits needed to create a 13-lot subdivision. In exchange, the developer would donate a 5-acre parcel to the state for a parking lot and comfort station.

State officials were enthusiastic about the plan at the time.

“It’s very exciting to see this get to this stage,” DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case said at the meeting.

The plan drew a lot of community interest, with initial support for the new overlook facilities but opposition to the subdivision plans. An online petition from a group calling itself “Protect Pololu Valley” had garnered more than 877,000 signatures by Friday.

“Profiting from this sacred land is unthinkable” Diane Napua Reyes, a Native Hawaiian descendent from North Kohala, said in written testimony to the Planning Department. “For the State of Hawaii DLNR, if the trails are used by tourists, a fee should be established to maintain the parking and restroom area, including the care of this sacred land. “

Little has happened since then.

Bill Shontell, executive vice president of Surety Kohala Corp., said the North Kohala CDP Action Committee had approached him, asking for a donation for the parking lot and comfort station. He said he hasn’t withdrawn the 13-lot subdivision plan, but he’s recently submitted a different consolidation and re-subdivision application to the county for the same property.

This one would consolidate lots on 195.5 acres and then subdivide it into 172-acre and 23.5-acre lots. The property, in the agriculture district, won’t have to come to the Leeward Planning Commission for this action. The county Planning Department has asked the applicant to post a sign and have the lots surveyed before the project can be approved.

The first plan requires more permitting and more expensive permitting work because it involves the conservation district and also the Special Management Area, which require different permits. The latest application won’t trigger those actions.

“It would put us in a better position. We’re reconfiguring the property, giving up as we can and turning around and selling them,” Shontell said. “It’s the same thing we’ve done for 20 years. It’s no surprise.”

A DLNR spokesman said the agency hasn’t heard from Shontell since the Land Board meeting. The agency continues to support the project, however.

“(DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife) is still hopeful that a land donation may take place but that is Surety Kohala’s decision,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Shontell was born and raised in Kohala. KP Holdings LLC, a subsidiary, owns the land closest to the lookout. Surety Kohala Corporation owns some 8,000 acres, much of which is leased out, according to Shontell.

Of those, KP Holdings owns 134 acres on the west side of the lookout, 180 acres nearby, 85 acres at the front of the valley below and another 1,000 acres back in the valley.

Toni Withington, who has long been active in efforts to protect and promote coastal access in North Kohala, has nothing but praise for the new stewardship program.

“I think the stewardship that’s happening is excellent,” Withington said. “It is just what we need. There was so much confusion; it was a big health and safety issue.”

There still are no restroom facilities in the area. A DLNR spokesman said capital improvement money in the state budget to create plans with community input/consultation has not yet been released by the governor.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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