Delays worry volcano victims hoping to rebuild on new lots


POSTED: Sunday, March 01, 2009

HILO » A slowly moving lava flow crept up to Gilbert Hauanio's house on the coast south of Hilo in 1990 and destroyed it.

Now another slowly approaching danger is threatening to destroy Hauanio's dream of a replacement home.

Like most of 67 native Hawaiian families formerly of coastal Kalapana and neighboring communities, Hauanio faces a deadline of Dec. 31, 2012, to build a new home at a replacement community on state land known as Kikala-Keokea.

With the deadline mandated by the Board of Land and Natural Resources a little less than four years away and the national economy in a scary condition, lessees at Kikala-Keokea like Hauanio are nervous.

“;You've got to have a lot of money to build. It's hard to get insurance. There is so much red tape you've got to go through,”; said Hauanio, president of the tenants association.

As early as 1983, lava started destroying homes in Royal Gardens, west of Kalapana. During four months in 1990, nearly all of the remaining homes in the area were wiped out.

Native Hawaiians had a special claim to benefits because the “;Kalapana Extension”; of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in 1938 had removed some families from their land. All Hawaiian families, including those whose land was not taken by the park, were granted continuation of traditional fishing rights on shoreline land now inside the park.

In 1991, the state Legislature moved to protect those rights by authorizing a community of one-acre lots at Kikala-Keokea, three miles east of old Kalapana.

The 1991 law also mandated that the lessees would be free from all zoning and building requirements. In other words, they would be free from red tape. They got red tape anyway.

Part of the problem was that the community was envisioned to have gravel streets and rainwater catchment but lessees wanted paved streets and piped water. For years, there was no money for that.

The state and Office of Hawaiian Affairs eventually contributed $4.5 million for improvements, but lessees had to wait until 2007 for that.

“;They didn't even want us on the property,”; said Maile Moulds-Carr, who has since become one of only three people who have built a house there.

In 19 years since lava destroyed Kalapana, people scattered and some gave up.

Jill Kahilihiwa said her husband David received a lease but is no longer interested. “;I wanted to hold it for my daughter,”; Kahilihiwa said, but her husband said it was too much trouble.

Hauanio, who has a house elsewhere on the island and works five days a week on Kauai, was going to do the same.

“;We were going to leave it to our kids,”; he said. But his son is building a house closer to Hilo. “;He never wanted to bother,”; Hauanio said.

The position of the state Land Department is that it does not believe an extension of leases is needed, despite hard economic times. However, changes could be made by the Land Board if there are “;compelling reasons,”; the department said.

Rep. Faye Hanohano, who represents the area, said, “;I know they cannot build (homes) by 2012 because nobody is making any money.”;

Sen. Russell Kokubun, also representing the area, said, “;I think the Land Board will have sensitivity given the economic situation.”;