By Nicole Chipman
On the island of Maui there has been serious discontent brewing for some time on the matter of public versus private ownership of land, sea and the shoreline in between. Puamana is merely one of the many locations where the blister of discontent is ready to burst.
Puamana was originally the name of a house on Front Street that was built in 1915 by the Farden family. To the Farden’s, Puamana meant “home that holds its members close.” By the 1950’s, the ten Farden children had grown up and decided to sell the house, which was ridden with termites, for lumber.
Less than a decade later, a company called Lewers & Cooke Ltd., purchased the coastline property a quarter mile south of the Farden’s old home, where the clubhouse and manager’s home are still located. There, the company erected 30 acres worth of condominiums on half a mile of shoreline and sought permission from the Farden children to name the complex “Puamana.”
Before the condominiums were constructed, the stretch of beach at the south end of Front Street had been nicknamed “Hot Sands” for two reasons. Some say it was because the heat of the sand was so intense that surfers had to run quickly across it with their surfboards and leap into the water (see “Surf’s Up” on page 8). Others remember it being called “Hot Sands” because it was a hot spot, meaning it was a popular site where people often came together to enjoy the day.
Today, the nickname has become irrelevant because there is no longer a hot stretch of sand to run across and because local people who do not live within the confines of Puamana are discouraged from using the beach for their recreation. Since the resort is placed as close to the shoreline as it can possibly be without actually being submerged in the water, people must either climb over rocks or paddle out from one of the nearby beach parks to access the beach of Puamana without being accused of trespassing.
When a resort is considered private and is placed as close to the ocean as Puamana, some confusion is created. All of the beaches in the state of Hawai`i are public property up to the vegetation line, though many resorts have planted a vegetation line of their own and thus extended the perimeter of their property. The line between public and private is a mottled and disturbing one, especially for those who are told to keep out of spaces where they once were allowed to freely roam.
Four months ago, a formidable gate was placed across Puamana’s main entrance and heightened security was enforced to keep out trespassers who were crossing the property to use the beach. The management refused to comment on why it was decided that the gate was necessary, because says Puamana General Manager Steve Moyer, “We have already received enough bad publicity on the matter.”
Red, who has lived in Puamana for the past 25 years, does not approve of the gate being put up, especially since there was no residential vote on the issue. He does not like having to pass through a gate whenever he comes and goes from his home. Red admits that there were violations, he said, “People were using the shower, bathrooms and washing machines when they should not have been, but these problems could have been dealt with in a much nicer way.”
Guards patrol the area in golf carts and ask anyone they do not recognize as a resident to leave at once. James “Kimo” Sahagun has lived on Maui his whole life. He says, “The guards are on power trips. They chase us away when they know we do not live in Puamana even if we are not doing any harm and are just trying to use the beach.”
“They try to claim the beach is their private property, but it is not. There is supposed to be a beach access road, but there is not,” says Spike, a long-time surfer of the Maui seas. “A few people blew it for everybody, by playing their radios too loud or leaving empty cans around, but it is not fair that everyone should suffer for it,” he says.
“Locals get a lot of the blame… Fingers point to those who live here for trespassing, but where are we supposed to go when everything is locked up?” Sahagun wonders. He believes that many locals feel powerless against developments like Puamana. He says, “We (locals) have had to adjust to the changes that have taken place around us and we do the best that we can… No, we do not like what we see happening all over the island, but we feel like there is little we can do. We make an issue about these things, but we don’t really go in and fight it, because we can’t… Even though what we are saying is the truth, we do not have a lot of money and so no one listens to us. Only those who have a lot of money are listened to and they do whatever they want to the land.”
In the 1970’s when the bottom of the river that runs through Puamana was cemented to control the erosion, all of the life that used to live in it was destroyed. Since the rock and dirt bottom that acted like a natural filter is gone, the silt and chemicals caught in the catch slide down directly into the ocean when it rains and turn it brown. Sahagun remembers, “When I was young, the coral here was florescent pink, florescent orange, florescent green. Now it is mostly brown. It could be helped, if the amount of chemicals and waste that are allowed to slip into the ocean were monitored.”
Ed Lindsey remembers a time when the beach at Puamana belonged to the local people and was open for the public to enjoy. Now, he is followed by a golf cart and told to leave what is now marked as private property. He says it is because, “They don’t want any riff-raff coming through. They are protecting their own interests.” Lindsey sees it as a cultural collision that has been occurring all over the island. In the last ten years he has watched a growing trend of people build high walls around their homes to isolate themselves. The people who put up the walls are not locals, he is sure. He thinks it is “a mainland value to protect me, my and myself versus the island value which is to protect us and together.” Back in the ‘50’s they could get away with taking up the coastline for the building of Puamana, but today people would fight it, Lindsey believes.
Wayno Cochran from Maui Surfboards, the oldest surf shop on the island, likes to surf at Puamana, so he paddles over from the nearby beach park to do so. He says, “All surfers want to do is catch some waves and have fun. Maybe they change their clothes on the beach and sometimes leave trash behind, but hardly ever, since most of us have enough respect not to do that.” Cochran does not approve of resorts like Puamana encroaching on the shoreline and marking it off as private. “They act like they are afraid. They might as well get barbed wire and gunners to guard their property if that’s their attitude,” he says, adding, “You’ll never hear of a surfer serial-killer.”
So who’s right? who’s wrong? who cares? Ultimately, these answers must be decided by you, the reader. Is there a legitimate threat to security, privacy and safety? Is it legally and morally conscionable to restrict access to the oceans? Especially here in Hawai`i? Why aren’t the parties responsible talking? Is there something to hide? Is there a solution?
As any well written piece should, I think Nicole’s article has only given us more questions to ponder. And ponder we should, for if no one speaks, if no one asks the questions, than no one can point a finger when we find ourselves living in a place we no longer recognize.