By ERIN MILLER
Abel Simeone Lui has lived at Kawa through three mayoral administrations.
Despite recent court orders establishing the county’s ownership of the property and denying Lui’s appeals of those orders, Mayor Billy Kenoi hasn’t ordered Lui evicted, nor has the Hawaii County Police Department or the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office enforced the court’s wishes. The lack of action has some Ka‘u residents wondering whether the inaction is political, particularly as the mayoral primary approaches.
“Absolutely,” it is political, rancher Kyle Soares said Tuesday morning.
Soares has been fighting with Lui for years to access a water easement on the Kawa property. Soares uses the waterline for the cattle he raises in Ka‘u. Soares claims Lui and his supporters have harassed and threatened him and his family, and even attacked his wife when she was taking children across the property to the coastline.
Now, Soares said, the county’s property manager has told Soares he should not access the easement to repair the waterline, because it runs through conservation land.
Kenoi, asked for an update Monday, said he was unaware of any comment from a county official to Soares about the water easement. Kenoi said the county continues to work with descendants on a management plan for the property.
Some longtime Ka‘u residents are ready to see the county take action, because they’re tired of not being able to access the bay.
“Abel (does) not belong to Ka‘u,” Pele Hanoa said Tuesday. “He (doesn’t) belong to Kawa.”
Hanoa — born and raised at Punaluu, which neighbors Kawa, and known for her work supporting the region’s preservation — said people should be able to access the property on which Lui has squatted for decades.
“The county should get him out of there,” she said.
Many Hawaiian families with long ties to the land have also expressed their concerns to Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart about Lui’s continued presence, and claim he continues to block access, she added.
“Many of them feel threatened when they go down there,” Smart said. “All sides should abide by the court decision.”
Mayoral candidates Council Chairman Dominic Yagong and former Mayor Harry Kim said they would enforce the court order, if elected.
Kim said he met with Lui when he was mayor and told Lui when the sale went through, Lui would no longer be allowed to live on the property. Kim said the sale began during his final term, but was not completed.
Lui, who did not respond to attempts to reach him, has previously denied blocking access. He claims his great-great-grandfather, Timoteo Keawe, got the land in a royal grant and that under kingdom law, it could be leased but never sold.
But the state Supreme Court in 2007, in an 83-page opinion, ruled the Apikis — another Native Hawaiian family that traces its roots six generations to a Kawa Bay fishing village — and other families had no ownership interest in the land.
Hawaii County purchased the land, worth an estimated $6 million, to preserve it as open space.
The most recent court action was late last year, when 3rd District Court Judge Joseph P. Florendo denied Lui’s appeal of Florendo’s June 2011 ruling granting the county preliminary authority to remove Lui and his supporters from the land.
Several County Council members, including one seeking to replace Kenoi as county mayor, joined Ka‘u residents in questioning why the county hasn’t taken action on the eviction.
“The real question is whether or not the mayor has the authority not to act on the court order,” Yagong said. “I don’t think the mayor has that authority.”
Smart said the issue is difficult and divisive, and it’s a rare situation in which there is no middle ground. She said she waited for the court to rule on the matter, and now that a ruling has been handed down, the county should move ahead with evicting Lui.
The county isn’t in violation of the court order, Deputy Corporation Counsel Laureen Martin told Stephens Media, after Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida passed the inquiry to Martin. Two court procedures relate to the property, one for the land Hawaii County purchased, the other for land the Edmund Olson Trust purchased. The Olson Trust writ of possession gives the authority to eject Lui from the property, but neither order requires Lui to be removed.
The Olson Trust’s lawyers have requested, at Hawaii County officials’ requests, extensions to implementing that order. That is “appropriate and relatively common” to do, Martin said. In March, Martin said Thursday, the county had what it needs to move forward with eviction actions, but she was awaiting a go-ahead from the administration to do so.
Kenoi said family members with ties to the land at a recent meeting suggested more descendants of Kawa to consult with the county at a meeting two weeks from now. He said he wants as much input as possible, so when the management plan is finally put together, it’s done just one time.
“We’re trying to find the right solution,” he said. “We’ll take as much time as we need.”
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.