State Law Grants Access to La`au

In his most recent effort to defend the development of Lā‘au,  MPL’s John Sabas praises their plan which will increase human access to this pristine area.  He is especially proud of MPL’s proposal to open up the coastal footpath to the public so that people won’t have to walk along the beach.

Although this appears generous, the reality is that the coastal trail to La’au is already open to the public.  Under Chapter 264-1(b) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, any trail in existence as of the Highways Act of 1892 is automatically a legal public trail and the public has access to it. Such is the case with the traditional trail to La’au  which predates this time. In recognition of this law, the “Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation” is requesting that maps from 1886, which show the exact location of the ancient trail, be publicized in the final La’au Point EIS.

Although the public legitimately has access to Lā‘au already, distance, terrain and the hot temperatures of the area tend to limit the numbers of those that will make the journey.This limitation of access is recognized as a positive component not a negative one. The community has said clearly that it is satisfied with the current level of access, and does not want it increased. The fear is that increased access, primarily related to access from new home sights at La’au, will bring more people into the area and pose serious risks to the survival of cultural sites, subsistence fishing and hunting practices, and endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seals.

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service received numerous letters from Molokai residents expressing concerns over the impact of Lā‘au development on the monk seals.  In its comments on MPL’s EIS, the Fisheries Service said that: “While we typically do not respond to public outcry over coastal development, the letters are indicative of the degree of public support for protection of the seals and this valuable habitat.”  In support of this concern, the Fisheries Service said that developing Lā‘au “will vastly increase the number of people present on the shoreline associated with the new homes. One can expect that this can only result in increased disturbance to the seals.” 

The development of La’au will only marginally improve access for the people of Molokai, however, the 200 private subdivision owners will have unlimited access to the shoreline, along with all of their friends, families and visitors.  And even more importantly for the monk seals, pets like the subdivision owners’ dogs will also have unrestricted access to the entire coastline.  Also commenting on the development at La’au, the Fisheries Service stated that “despite their large size, monk seals are vulnerable to attack by dogs, the risks of dogs include direct attack, displacement from land and disease transfer”.

In regard to the 434 acre conservation easement, which gives the appearance of wide open areas, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp comments that “it is unfortunate that a simulation of what La’au Point will look like after it’s development is not included in the EIS”. NHLC goes on to say that the DEIS misleads people into thinking that the scenic impact is negligible because so much of the land is left to open space. It is irrelevant that each lot is relatively large at two acres given their shape. Some lots fronting the ocean appear to be less than 200 feet wide. Given the shape of the lots (long and narrow facing the ocean) the effect (looking from the ocean) will be a row of houses”.

 As for MPL’s plan to have the Molokai Land Trust enforce the rules of the conservation  “easement”, everything is in the future tense, they have not yet produced any documents proving how this will be done or how the enforcement of such protections will be accomplished. In the early stages of development it is possible that just a few homes would exist with many undeveloped lots in existence. Will a police force of sorts be created to stop people from crossing these lots to access this area? This is just one of many problematic questions that arise. MPL’s refusal to substantiate the Trust’s enforcement power means that we still have no proof that the resources will be protected.

I laughed when a Molokai Dispatch editorial writer said that the environmental result of developing Lā‘au would be “a house on every rock, and a seal on every lawn.”  Unfortunately, this is likely to be true, at least for a while.  But after the new subdivision owners move in with their dogs and fishermen friends, chances are the seals will be long gone and this once pristine area will have been victim to yet another foreign development corporation.


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