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Grove Farm sues County of Kauaʻi over gifted land deeded for treatment facility

Courtesy County of Kauaʻi
Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center

For nearly 20 years, the County of Kauaʻi has been working to open a drug treatment center for children and young adults on the island.

With federal, state and local funding, and a lot gifted by Grove Farm Co., Kauaʻi celebrated when the freshly built Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center hosted a blessing at the end of 2019.

Back then, it was projected the facility would be operational within months. But almost three years have passed and the ATHC has never served its intended purpose. For that reason, Grove Farm has filed suit to get the land back.

According to documents filed in Fifth Circuit Court on Wednesday, Grove Farm is looking for a declaratory judgment to reclaim the land, citing a specific clause within its deed.

Grove Farm first agreed to hand over the 5.8-acre Maʻalo Road in Kapaia property in 2015. By 2017, the two groups signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing that the county would utilize the property “in perpetuity solely for adult and adolescent health care use.”

The MOU states that if the county were to not use the property for two years, “the premises shall immediately and without re-entry revert” back to Grove Farm.

According to the filing, Grove Farm wants to prevent the county from ceding the land to a third-party entity that would not be subject to the clause.

On Wednesday, Mayor Derek Kawakami said that after two years of legal threats from Grove Farm, “we look forward to having the court review all of the actions the county has taken, including using the center for pandemic emergency response.”

In the early days of the pandemic, the county offered the ATHC — with eight beds, running water and electricity — to the state Department of Health for use as a quarantine facility.

Grove Farm doesn’t think that’s satisfactory for “health care use,” according to the filing. The company states that there were never discussions with them regarding the use of the facility.

“Grove Farm’s past and present actions related to litigation raise questions about the credibility of their desire to really open this center quickly,” Kawakami said.

But it could have been the desire to get the ATHC up and running quickly that originally stunted the progress of the facility’s opening.

In 2019, the county contracted Hope Treatment Services, an Oʻahu-based service provider, to oversee the ATHC. In early 2020, the county severed its ties with Hope Treatment.

At the time, officials stated the nonprofit hadn’t secured the proper licensing and equipment needed to operate the facility in a timely manner. Disputing those claims, Hope Treatment has since sued the county for loss of revenue.

As this happened, the pandemic began to unfold.

A year later, the county took another go at it. With its 2021 budget, the county offered a solution: Repurpose the ATHC for use by the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, Teen Court and other services. The state Department of Education was folded into the equation to offer services for at-risk youth.

Community backlash to this plan resulted in the formation of the nonprofit Kaua‘i Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing, with board members including present and former council members, former mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., and leadership from Hawaiʻi Health Systems Corporation.

HHSC was key to the operation. Officials said then that HHSC had the “human capital to support the center” with KATCH, and in June 2021, the county began the process of formally handing over the title of the property. A $1.3 million allocation from the state Legislature within the state’s fiscal-year 2022 budget was even handed down.

Plans stalled from there, with the latest movement being this new lawsuit.

On Wednesday, the Kauaʻi County Council entered executive session to discuss the lawsuit. While that part of the meeting was closed to the public, community members pleaded with council members to return the land to Grove Farm.

“Please, figure this out,” Tracy Fu said, describing her son's overdose that led to his death.

In his statement, Kawakami said the right operator hasn’t been found, and fixed blame to Grove Farm.

“We share the philosophy of previous administrations that many hands besides the county will be required to open the center as soon as possible,” Kawakami said. “However, rumored and implicit threats of litigation by Grove Farm over the past two years have made potential operational partners scared to engage and assume control of the center.”

Kawakami said his priority is getting the center up and running, not county ownership.

The island had a facility in the past, but in 1992, Hurricane ʻIniki destroyed Kauaʻi Serenity House. Since then, keiki have had to travel to other islands or the mainland for this kind of substance abuse help.

“In a tight community like ours, we will never stop working with any partners, including Grove Farm, to get the original vision realized,” Kawakami said.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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