State looking at better ways to manage Ka Lae

  • A parking fee and entrance gate on South Point Road are on the table as part of the state’s efforts to better manage resources at Ka Lae, also known as South Point, where the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands says resources are in “critical” condition. (DHHL South Point Resources Management Plan/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • This Google Maps capture shows the many tracks left by trucks, all-terrain vehicles and motor bikes over the years at Ka Lae. (Google Maps/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • People enjoy the day at Papakolea Beach. The South Point Resources Management Plan proposed actions also include an entrance gate at Kalae and South Point roads, a walking trail with signage at Kalae, which the document also refers to Ka Lae, and a path from the Barracks in the area at Papakolea or Green Sands Beach. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
  • People enjoy the day at Papakolea Beach, a highlight of Ka Lae in Ka’u. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • The heavy use of trucks, all-terrain vehicles and motor bikes has caused widespread sand and soil erosion.

  • Trucks, all-terrain vehicles and motor bikes have caused widespread sand and soil erosion. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A parking fee and entrance gate on South Point Road are on the table as part of the state’s efforts to better manage natural and cultural resources at Ka Lae, also known as South Point, where the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands says resources are in “critical condition.”

The details of the South Point Resources Management Plan and its impact on Ka Lae’s resources are part of a draft environmental assessment released at the end of last month. The study determined the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ proposal would “restore, preserve and protect cultural and natural resources,” and generate revenue for the agency to support the area’s management.

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The overarching effort is to get a better handle on ongoing “unregulated access” to DHHL lands at Ka Lae, which the document says has harmed both cultural sites and the coastal ecosystem. Specifically, the agency points at heavy use of trucks, all-terrain vehicles and motor bikes, which DHHL said have destroyed sites and caused widespread sand and soil erosion.

“Through the community planning and outreach process, DHHL worked with DHHL beneficiaries and Ka‘u community members to identify a collective vision for Ka Lae which is for the area to become a self-sustaining, healthy and safe community where the aina – inclusive of the people and resources within it — and native Hawaiian culture and values thrive,” said Department of Hawaiian Home Lands information and community relations officer Paula Aila. “DHHL hopes that the implementation of plan recommendations will lead to the realization of the community’s collective vision for Ka Lae.”

The agency’s Resources Management Plan outlines 16 individual projects — both short- and long-term — to manage the area and “let the land heal.”

“The main near-term priority for DHHL is to gain site control by managing vehicular access,” said the draft environmental assessment, saying doing anything else without first establishing an on-site presence “would be ineffective and a waste of financial resources and effort.”

The agency’s goals for the region range from restoring and preserving cultural and natural resources to generating revenue to fund management activities.

Each goal is accompanied with specific projects or strategies, such as the design and construction of a walking path to take visitors throughout the area and putting in place a parking fee.

Proposed actions also include an entrance gate at Kalae and South Point roads, a walking trail with signage, and a path from the barracks in the area to Papakolea or Green Sands Beach. An emergency access road is also proposed for the area.

During public meetings and talk-story sessions, area residents raised concerns that the area “has become a playground” for people who go off-road and “tear up the landscape,” and that unrestricted access has scarred the land.

The majority of the soils in the area covered by the plan are sandy loam soils, which are 50 percent sand and, when exposed, are highly erodible. Tradewinds frequently impact that area.

And while erosion already occurs naturally, unmanaged recreational vehicles in the area have cut deep grooves throughout the land and stripped vegetation that keeps the soil in place.

Combined with the natural wind erosion, the document states, coastal erosion has been exacerbated in the area.

Eroded soil also gets into coastal waters and degrades its quality, the assessment added, “a phenomenon that occurs frequently at South Point from the widespread use of recreational vehicles.”

The area also crosses three historic/archaeological districts, including the South Point Complex National Historic Landmark, Mahana Archaeological District and Kipuka Kuniau Archaeological District. All three locations are on the State Inventory of Historic Places.

The South Point Complex, the report states, includes the Kalalea Heiau, Kapapaloa Bay Village, canoe mooring holes and other resources that together form “a group of sites which provides the longest and most complete record of human occupation of the Hawaiian Islands.”

An associated cultural impact assessment raised some concerns about the effects of the plan, such as the potential for uncovering skeletal remains and limiting access for traditional and cultural practices.

In response, some community members quoted in the report suggested steps for mitigation, such as ceasing work in the event cultural or burial sites are uncovered and ensuring the proposed entrance gate doesn’t limit Native Hawaiians’ traditional and customary practices, noting that the area is “one of the most important fishing grounds in the Ka‘u District.”

One recommendation was that if an entrance fee for South Point be implemented, the fee be waived for Ka‘u residents.

One issue that would need to be resolved is that of wastewater treatment and disposal.

Currently, there are two portable toilets near the boat hoist, which are serviced by a nonprofit group.

But the state’s Department of Health has said a portable toilet doesn’t comply with state law and wouldn’t be approved for use.

While a preferred alternative hadn’t been identified at the time the report was prepared, compost toilets, septic tanks and a small treatment plant were all included as options, although each option presents its own particular hurdles.

The assessment did present some alternatives to the overall plan to manage the area, one of which being taking no action at all. The document though said that was “not an option,” saying the widespread destruction “is at a critical point.”

Another alternative was to close the DHHL-owned portion of South Point Road and prohibit vehicles from entering entirely.

While that strategy would be financially cheaper than the management plan and significantly reduce the impact of people, it would also eliminate any economic opportunities to use the area’s resources to support the agency’s beneficiaries.

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Aila said the final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact is expected around this summer. An implementation timeline will depend on sufficient funding being provided to DHHL.

The full draft environmental assessment is available online. The PDF version can be found at this link.