GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maui resident Christina "Uma" Hemming played a pivotal role in the county's eventual acquisition of private land to preserve beach access near Paia.
Woman wins fight for public beach
Uma Hemming spent her time and money to keep access to a Maui shoreline open
PAIA, Maui » Christina "Uma" Hemming said she felt she needed to do something when she learned that an urban development would have blocked people from getting from the shores of Paia town to Baldwin Beach Park.
"I called, I wrote, I hassled," recalled Hemming.
Some eight years later, Hemming's fight has led Maui County to authorize the final purchase of the parcel known as Montana Beach Condominiums for public beach use.
The Maui County Council authorized the purchase of the final part of a 5-acre parcel in January. The Council also approved the payment of $85,000 to Hemming and the Hawaiian group Hui Alanui O Makena for attorneys' fees and court costs.
Hui Alanui official Dana Naone Hall said Hemming's persistence made a difference.
"It says a lot about her perseverance and her desire to see this important coastal area protected for public use," Hall said.
Hall said there are those who complain about preserving beach access, but Hemming was willing not only to devote time researching, but also to spend her own money in legal fees in the fight.
Attorney James Fosbinder, who represented some owners in the Montana Beach Condominium project, said he did not want to comment on the lawsuit, but felt the county would have done better and saved money by buying a right of way mauka of the Montana Beach property.
Fosbinder noted that the beachfront is rocky and unusable for beachgoers.
Maui County Councilman Michael Molina, who supported the settlement and land purchase, said he cannot comment on the suit but that he does see the need for park space from Baldwin Beach to Paia town.
"There's more than enough need for park space," Molina said.
Hemming, a former Connecticut resident who has worked as a massage therapist on Maui, said she had seen the public shut out of beaches on the East Coast.
"I just felt it wasn't right on Maui," she said. "I thought if the kids can't walk from Paia Bay to Baldwin Beach, it's just going to create more alienation, more segregation."
Hemming appealed an exemption given by a county planning director, who had allowed the Montana Beach Condominiums project to develop without a special management area permit.
Attorney Isaac Hall and Hui Alanui assisted Hemming in the litigation.
The county eventually reversed its decision about the exemption and moved toward buying the parcel. The County Council authorized the purchase of about 2.5 acres for $6.3 million a couple of years ago.
The final authorization for $4.1 million was approved by the Council in January.
Hemming said she would like to see the county use one of the residences as a community center or pavilion and to remove some of the boulders along the shoreline.
"It would be great as a senior citizen center," she said.