After over six months, Maui County is still in discussion with Alexander & Baldwin Properties Hawaii LLC about possibly purchasing a popular North Shore beach property in order to address ongoing concerns by the community regarding public safety, management practices and environmental degradation.
The county’s Finance Department did not disclose any updates regarding the possible acquisition of Wawau Point in Paia, also known as Baby Beach, during a Government Relations, Ethics, and Transparency Committee meeting on Tuesday.
Maui County Council Member Mike Molina, who chairs the committee and holds the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat, had proposed the acquisition last year as a way to preserve and improve the area.
“I would certainly hope that this administration was given a lot of time to get going on this. I’m not sure if it’s A&B that could be stalling this, or the administration, maybe it’s not a priority, but I’d hope on behalf of the people in Paia and the North Shore that the administration steps up in negotiations on the potential acquisition,” Molina said. “I know the administration has been very active in seeking other properties, but as it relates to Baby Beach, it doesn’t seem to be a priority, which is really disappointing for myself and for others in the community, but we’ll hold out some hope that some type of action will proceed.”
County Finance Director Scott Teruya said that he spoke with Mayor Michael Victorino Tuesday morning and relayed that the office is still in discussions with A&B, but could not provide further information regarding interest, price, timeline or restoration plan.
“I just spoke with the mayor this morning. I’m not involved in negotiation on this particular item, but they’re still in discussion with A&B regarding this matter,” Teruya said during the meeting.
A&B told The Maui News on Thursday that “there is no update to share at this time.”
For years, Baby Beach offered beachfront parking for easy access to the shore where beachgoers of all ages could swim, snorkel, fish, exercise or lay out on the sand.
However, the red clay parking lot has experienced severe erosion from foot traffic and vehicle traffic over time, endangering the health of wildlife, plants and the coastal shoreline.
A lack of monitoring has also led to illegal activity, such as overnight camping and dumping of trash, which has caused unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
A&B, which owns the nearly 30-acre parcel along the Paia-Spreckelsville coast, had received a special management area permit last year from the county to pursue improvements at Wawau Point, which cost nearly $204,000. The company is also supposed to complete the project within one year of starting the work.
The Baby Beach parking lot has since been closed off to vehicle traffic with a yellow gate and barriers. Native naupaka have been planted along the embankment at the point to curtail erosion.
Additional improvements will include installing instructional signs, which would outline that overnight parking, camping, unleashed animals, littering or dumping and alcohol consumption are not allowed, as well as notify the public that there is no lifeguard on duty, an A&B official said during the committee’s meeting in October.
“No parking” signage has been posted along one side of Kealakai Place, forcing cars to park on the other side of the one-way street or along Paani Place toward Sugar Cove.
There are also large boulders and plants along the streets in Spreckelsville placed by homeowners to deter vehicles from parking along their property line.
“This is a very, very important area for the community, especially in regards to shoreline access,” said local activist Kai Nishiki on Tuesday. “I definitely want to address the acquisition but in the meantime, there’s an extreme issue with the parking in that area and it would be great to have an update.”
Nishiki said she filed several requests for service with county Public Works Department to send out notices to the homeowners to remove the “encroachments” so that the public has parking access while waiting for the reopening of Wawau Point and completion of shoreline restoration.
“I’m hoping that we will be getting some movement on this,” she said.
Molina said he plans to do “whatever it takes to get this matter moving,” such as scheduling another meeting with participating departments and property owners, as well as getting involved with the community to figure out how to expedite the acquisition.
If a deal is struck between the county and A&B to purchase all or most of the 29.95 acres, then the matter would transfer to the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee, which council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez chairs, to discuss using county funding.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]