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Fence for Coconut Grove Generates Mixed Reactions

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) received permission last week to place a fence around Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, a move that some residents feel will protect a historic site but others feel will prove ineffective.

Molokai’s 150-year-old grove became the subject of recent scrutiny after disease and invasive insects were discovered in some of the trees last December. The State Historical Preservation Division (SHPD), which authorized the fence, said in a statement that seeing “the affected coconut trees within the grove reinforced the need for protective fencing” for the health of the grove and the safety of the public.

Support for the Fence

At community meetings held by the DHHL and Kalamaula Homestead Association in May and June, residents voiced support for a fence.

“Everybody is jumping in [the spring] but they’re leaving so much opala,” said resident Zachary Helm at a meeting. “That’s not for go swim. That’s sacred ground.”

Residents said they’ve requested fencing in past years, but DHHL Acting District Supervisor Halealoha Ayau said the department has been waiting on guidance from SHPD while also trying to gather community input.

“The most important reason [for the fence] is the statement by the kupuna of this area that the grove is sacred and that it’s not some place that people go to recreate,” said Ayau. “… For us as a landowner, high on that list is liability. We don’t want people getting injured while they’re in there.”

According to DHHL equipment operator Myron Poepoe, the fence will be four to five feet high and encircle three sides of the grove’s perimeter—a total of nearly 1,200 feet—with the fourth side bordered by the ocean. Posts will be placed 10 feet apart with wiring in between. The department will stop the fence 40 feet short of the shoreline to avoid the high water mark, and the beach flanking the grove will still be open to the public.

Kalamaula residents and DHHL workers have already started measuring and marking locations for posts. Poepoe didn’t give an exact timeline but said the fence could possibly be installed within a couple of weeks.

Ayau said the fence will mainly limit vehicle entry. Cars can weaken the ground, which is already soft and hollow in places from underground springs. In addition, falling coconuts have damaged cars in the past.

“I’d like to see the fence put up … because too much people go in and out and they use their cars,” said kupuna Kauila Reyes, who lives across from the grove. “If people keep going in with their cars, the springs will keep coming up in different places.”

Questioning Its Effects

Because the fence won’t enclose the grove entirely, some residents said they feel it will be ineffective. Beachgoers Pualani and Lilinoe, who only wanted to use their first names, said people could still get through. A better solution for keeping the grove in good condition, they said, would be more frequent clean-ups.

“I don’t think they should make a fence. It’s been like this for years, open,” said Pualani. “… What they should do is keep up with the maintenance, instead of cleaning once every [several] years.”

Lilinoe said she understood the department has only one maintenance worker but felt if a little upkeep is done in the grove every week, it won’t be as difficult over time. Residents also have a responsibility to pick up after themselves, she added.

Earlier this month, the DHHL contracted Molokai company Akamai Tree Trimming to do a major cleanup of the grove, the first in nearly four years, according to Kalamaula Homestead Association President Gayla Haliniak-Lloyd. Liz Gomes, whose husband was involved in the grove overhaul, said she had mixed feelings about the fence.

“We gotta preserve whatever’s left. I haven’t seen it like this in many years,” she said. “But to me I think it shouldn’t be fenced. People know how to take care of it. But it only takes a few bad apples for it to be fenced.”

Ayau acknowledged that the fence can’t prevent all types of entry.

“We cannot control people’s behavior,” he said. “… We can do the best we can with the resources we have and hope people will be respectful and responsible.”

Many have said they grew up learning the grove was sacred but added that may not be common knowledge these days. Community members have suggested placing a sign to explain the historical and cultural significance of the grove, which Ayau said would be something to discuss later down the line.

Entry Still Permitted

The grove will not be entirely closed off to the public. Community members wanting to enter for educational or cultural purposes can request a limited right of entry permit from the department and must wear hard hats.

Kalamaula resident George Aiwohi said that as a kid on Oahu, he saw a child struck and killed by a falling coconut. He urged people to take the danger seriously.

“I don’t want to live that again,” he said. “And it shouldn’t have to happen before we do something about it. It takes a second for them to hit you.”

Aiwohi added that people are usually understanding when told why they can’t be in the grove.

“The majority of people are very respectful,” he said. “I think what it is just passing [understanding of the grove] down to the next generation.”

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