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Community opposition is growing in Kohala over a $25 million land listing

Kohala property.jfif
Hawaii Information Service

Community opposition is growing in Kohala over plans to sell land near the Pololū Valley lookout and along the valley coastline. A private landowner has listed nearly 45 acres in the area for $25 million. Those who oppose the sale worry about potential development and the impact that could have on local residents.

Paul Ishikuro pololu valley
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
Paul Ishikuro speaks to Hawaiʻi Public Radio about the Pololū Valley land listing.

Long-time Kohala resident and fisherman Paul Ishikuro is one of a handful of community members who volunteer at the Pololū Valley Lookout as local guides and safety officers.

"Itʻs like my backyard. I come from Makapala three minutes away and Iʻve seen from 35 years ago to today, it’s totally changed," Ishikuro said.

Niuliʻi resident and Kohala High School teacher Aoloa Patao says nowadays visitors are outnumbering locals in the valley.

"Itʻs really a place that people grow up with. Thatʻs really not the case now. And it’s kind of unfortunate. The people who live here and still live here and have generational ties to this place, they are continuing to change that scenery and put local people back where they belong," Patao said.

Patao and other residents have formed the group Protect Pololū in response to a series of real estate listings over the years seeking to sell off land in the area.

The latest sale by private landowner the Surety Kohala Corporation includes 42 acres near the lookout known as the Mule Station and a 2.5-acre beach parcel in the valley.

Aoloa Patao pololu valley
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
Aoloa Patao

"It's hard and it’s hard to accept, it’s hard to swallow. And for an amount like that. It’s crazy to think that that’s a possibility. It’s kind of disheartening to know that someone wants to sell this piece of land knowing that the people who love it in their heart can’t afford that," Patao told HPR.

This is especially the case for Native Hawaiian families with ancestral ties to Pololū. These ʻohana know the valley as the site of refuge for an infant Kamehameha I or as the home of Lonopuha, the creator of the sacred art of lāʻau lapaʻau or Native Hawaiian healing.

"Kēia mau wahi ʻaʻole ia he mau wahi laha no nā lehulehu, he mau wahi kapu. Me ia mau manaʻo ʻike ʻia ʻaʻole ʻo Pololū a me nā awāwa nā kuʻiʻeiwa a Kāne mai Pololū a hiki loa aku i Waimanu."

Niuliʻi resident Lehua AhSam says knowing the cultural signifiicance of Pololū Valley and every other isolated valley through Waimanu helps us understand why this area is sacred and should not be open to the public. She says long-time Kohala families place a deeper value on this land.

pololu valley land listing
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi

"ʻO ka waiwai o ka ʻāina ʻo ia ka waiwai o ke kupuna, ʻo ia ka waiwai o nā moʻolelo ʻo ia ka waiwai kēlā pilina i hiki ke paʻa pono mau ka mole o kēia mau ʻohana i kēia wahi. Mai laila mai ka ʻeha o kēia kūʻai aku ʻana."

AhSam says the value of the land can be likened to the value of an ancestor. The value, she says, is in these families being able to maintain their strong connection to this place. And that says Ah Sam is what makes this sale so painful.

After the story aired, Surety Kohala Corporation said in a statement that it "has been divesting its holdings in North Kohala since the mid-90s, proceeding generally from west to east."

"From a peak of 13,000 acres of former Kohala Sugar Company lands, our current inventory stands at approximately 1,800 acres, with about 1,400 acres remaining in the eastern region around Pololū Valley. Planning work for the eventual divestiture of the eastern properties got underway in 2014 and is still ongoing," the corporation said. "With the current strength in the real estate market, it makes sense to market property today, to any responsible individual or entity that is willing and able to make a reasonable offer."

In response to community concerns, the company said, "In 2017 the community, via the county's North Kohala Community Development Plan group, approached Surety to provide land for use in mitigating and managing safety, health, and access issues exacerbated by overcrowding at Pololū Valley. That effort — to provide a donation to the State of Hawaiʻi of approximately 90 acres of land at Pololu — continues."

Patao says the community is rallying support where they can.

"We tried to reach out to conservation groups and non-profits to see if they are able to lend a hand with purchasing. We tried to reach out also to the realtor on the listing to ask if they’re willing to sell to a conservation group," Patao said.

It’s been two months since the property was put on the market. So far, there’s no word yet on any potential sale.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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