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Community Opposition Grows in Kohala Over Proposed Development Near Pololū Valley Lookout

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Community opposition is growing in Kohala over plans to develop a parking lot near the Pololū Valley lookout. The proposal would improve access to the area’s popular hiking trail, but it could also open the door to residential development on the valley ridgeline.

A private landowner in Kohala agreed to donate 5 acres to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for a parking lot and comfort station near the valley lookout. David Smith, head of DLNR’s Forestry and Wildlife Division, says this could help ease traffic in the area.

"There were six parking spots at the end of the road and they were never full. Now the line of cars will go a quarter mile down the way on both sides of the road. There’s no restroom and it’s a real problem," says Smith, "So we’ve been working with reps from the Big Island to try to fix this thing and the community, and this is the fix."

A fix residents have heard before. In 2018, private landowner the Surety Kohala Corporation offered its Pololū property to the state to help solve this problem. But the donation comes with a condition. And that worries Loa Patao, a teacher at Kohala High School.   

"In order for the parking lot to happen, property that Surety (Kohala Corporation) owns needed to be subdivided," says Patao, "They didn’t really explain what the subdivision would be, but it’s come to be known that it’s 10 house lots, ranging from 3 to 9 acres on the Pololū Ridge."

Patao’s students explored the issue by doing their own research and conducting interviews with long-time residents. Their insights were included in a recent YouTube video titled “Save Pololū.”  Kohala High senior Moses Emeliano says it’ll just lead to future requests for a bigger parking lot.

"When the parking lot gets full, it’s going to go right back to how it is right now, parking on the side of the road," says Emeliano.

Bill Shontell, Executive Vice President of Surety Kohala Corporation, says he has plans on his desk dating back to the 1970s proposing a land donation to solve the long-standing safety and sanitation problems at the end of Akoni Pule Highway.

"And for 50 years, nothing happened," says Shontell, "So what I'd like to do before I retire, which is coming up, is to solve those problems. So that's what we're trying to do here provide the land the community has been asking for to solve a big problem out in Pololū."

The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the proposal, with the subdivision as part of the agreement. But Patao says the community was not aware of the subdivision. The land donation won’t kick in until the county approves Surety’s request to subdivide land along the Pololī ridgeline.

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