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Gate to protect Molokai beach spurs worries over access

Landowners say gate just one option as concerns grow over vehicles, trash

Tire tracks can be seen all over the sand at Kawakiu on Molokai’s west side. Concerns over vehicles driving on the sand and people leaving trash and impacting the environment have prompted the landowners of the access way to consider installing a gate to stop vehicles, though residents worry about access. — Photo courtesy of Molokai Properties Limited

Landowners of the access to a beach on Molokai’s west end are considering a gate to block vehicles and protect the area from littering and damage, though the plans have sparked resident worries over access.

Molokai Properties General Manager Todd Svetin said the gate is only one possibility to protect Kawakiu Beach and that other options may include signage or more enforcement of the area. If a gate is put up, it would only restrict vehicular access and the public will still be able to get to the area by foot, said Svetin, adding that the access road is about a mile and a half.

Molokai Properties Limited, aka Molokai Ranch, owns the property that contains the access road. The property is also being leased by a third party, according to Svetin.

Vehicles driving on the beach and people leaving behind litter or impacting wildlife have spurred concerns over the area. Svetin said that Molokai Properties was sent photos of truck tire tracks, trash and what looked like a turtle nesting disturbed on the beach.

He hopes the issues “can be resolved without having to put a gate up.”

Protection for turtle nesting at a beach in Kawakiu was apparently damaged. — Photo courtesy of Molokai Properties Limited

Word of a possible gate and residents’ discovery of white painted “X’s” along the unimproved dirt roadway leading to the area — which Svetin acknowledged were indicators of where the gate could be put up — caused a stir on the island.

A petition was started to oppose the gate and as of Friday afternoon had 505 signatures.

The petition said that not everyone in the community can make the hike into Kawakiu on foot, including families with younger children and elders.

“We need both Kupuna and Keiki to have access in order for our Kupuna to pass on native knowledge to the next generations,” the petition stated.

It added that it is important to keep the area open as it has been since the 1970s when access to the area was granted by court order.

A camp fire was left smoldering at the beach in Kawakiu. Landowners of the access way to the area are mulling a gate to help curb issues at the beach. — Photo courtesy of Molokai Properties Limited

An organizer for the petition effort declined comment until meeting with Molokai Properties/Molokai Ranch.

Molokai resident Kelson “Mac” Poepoe, who fought for that access, said the current situation reminds him of what happened more than 40 years ago.

At the time, vehicle access came through another point. People were driving down there and “trashing the place,” so access was closed off, Poepoe recalled.

But residents fought it and obtained access.

“It’s the same situation that is happening right now, people not caring for the place,” Poepoe, a longtime fisherman, said on Friday.

“I’m not taking sides,” he said, adding that what he was seeking to do is “malama” or protect the land.

“My opinion is I don’t like people messing with the beach, with the ocean. If people go down there, drive on the sand, it’s a no-no. If they making rubbish down there, that is a no-no.”

Poepoe, who still goes fishing in the area and around the island, said that he doesn’t want people to lose access and that “as much as possible no need a gate.”

However, “if you cannot take care, malama the place, then lock ‘um up,” he said.

Molokai Properties has also been in contact with state and county officials regarding the issues in Kawakiu, said Svetin, who also acknowledged that there is access to the area via the shoreline.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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