Temporary Leilani handoff proposed

  • Lava rock blocks Leilani Avenue in Leilani Estates. (TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara has introduced a resolution urging Hawaii County to grant temporary control of Leilani Avenue to the Leilani Estates Community Association.

She said she hopes the measure, which will be taken up during a committee meeting Monday, will give the association representing most of the property owners in the lava-ravaged subdivision a seat at the table with county administrators regarding future decisions and make litigation over control of the road unnecessary.

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“How can we impose an emergency declaration on this group, this population, and not provide that public safety piece, and expect them to self-police?” O’Hara asked.

The association has asked the county to maintain its security checkpoint on Leilani Avenue at the entrance to the subdivision or give it temporary control the public road, which now ends at the famed fissure 8. Other roads in the subdivision are private.

Board members, who have considered installing a gate, say they are concerned about being overwhelmed by visitors hoping to see the lava flow field, which covers private property, or criminals seeking to take advantage of homes that remain empty.

The association is trying to make its case in U.S. District Court in a class-action lawsuit filed against the county Thursday.

The lawsuit, which says the county has been unresponsive to the association’s concerns, asked the court to prevent the county from reopening the road to the general public “so long as the road remains un-repaired and only provides access to the Plaintiffs’ property, the Leilani Estates Subdivision.”

O’Hara said she thinks the association has raised reasonable concerns, though she noted she’s not a fan of putting in gates. She said there are already illegal tours occurring in the subdivision.

“It will get a lot worse without that checkpoint,” O’Hara said.

Mayor Harry Kim agreed to extend the security checkpoint until the end of the month.

The Mayor’s Office deferred comment to the county’s attorneys.

Laureen Martin, deputy corporation counsel, said the lawsuit, which relies on due process arguments, has several weaknesses.

“They are making constitutional arguments that don’t really apply,” she said.

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Martin said the county is preparing a response.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.