A group of Ka‘u residents was denied a petition for a contested case hearing challenging the acquisition of land by the Ala Kahakai Trail Association.
The association intends to purchase a 1,841-acre parcel south of Naalehu called Kiolaka‘a using a $1.5 million grant awarded by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources in April, despite opposition by some Ka‘u residents.
The acquisition is part of the association’s larger goal of purchasing and preserving land around the island for a trail network.
Following the approval of the grant, a pair of organizations called the Ka‘u Advisory Council and the Pele Defense Fund filed a petition for a contested case hearing with the BLNR, challenging the legality of the acquisition.
The Ka‘u Advisory Council’s petition cites Chapter 7 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which protects the rights of cultural and religious purposes of Native Hawaiian residents.
“Kiolaka‘a and surrounding ahupua‘a in Ka‘u that are under land management of Ala Kahakai Trail Association focuses more on specific land acquisition and does not guarantee or ensure the enforcement of Native Hawaiian cultural practices,” states the petition, filed by Jesse Ke. “Viewing human rights as irrelevant in the decision making process is an egregious act of disrespect to the value our cultural people as a whole place on their own existence and perpetuated survival.”
The petition went on to request that the BLNR “not allow Ala Kahakai Trail Association … activities to interfere in the natural process of utilizing from mauka to makai the process of sustainable living.”
No member of the Ka‘u Advisory Council or the Pele Defense Fund responded to multiple requests for comment. However, the president of the advisory council, Pernell Hanoa, submitted written testimony to the BLNR opposing the grant approval in April.
Hanoa’s testimony requested that the Ala Kahakai Association fully disclose a management plan describing how it will protect cultural and environmental resources and have at least six community meetings in Ka‘u before land considerations are made.
Also during the April meeting, several testifiers claimed that Ala Kahakai failed to adequately communicate its plans to residents.
However, the BLNR on Friday voted unanimously to deny the petition.
“Essentially, we feel that the Ka‘u Advisory Council does not appear to identify a department rule or statute that requires the board to hold a contested case hearing,” said David Smith, administrator for the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “It boils down to constitutional due process. (DOFAW) questions whether the board’s approval of the grant in any way affects Native Hawaiian rights as they exist.”
“We are concerned about Native Hawaiian gathering rights in general,” said board member Chris Yuen. “To say whether we’re allowing a contested case hearing is really a legal or technical issue.”
No further testimony on the issue was heard Friday.
Ala Kahakai Trail Association representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.