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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Kaʻū News Briefs Feb. 28, 2024


MORE PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN THE FUTURE OF KA'U drew support from people attending the Ka'u Community Development Plan Action Committee meeting on Wednesday in Ocean View. The volunteer Committee, designed to help align proposed projects and solutions to Ka'u Community Development Plan, follow some eight years of public meetings, research and decision to create the KCDP.
    Attendees at Wednesday's meeting, held at St. Jude's Church and online, called for the Action Committee meetings to focus more on "Action" than "meetings" in the words of Ron Ebert who served for years on the Ka'u Community Development Committee Steering Committee to develop the KCDP. Keeping issues on the Action Committee agenda such as reducing desecration of Green Sand Beach and the trail going there, and the pros and cons of the Punalu'u development proposal by Black Sand Beach, LLC, were suggested.
    Ebert made his own suggestion that the Action Committee look at establishing fire escape routes for Green Sand and Mark Twain subdivisions near Na'alehu. He suggested the county purchase lots in each of the neighborhoods and make them a park that would provide ingress and egress and serve as an escape route and a path for firefighter access. He noted range fires in the past when people were trapped in their homes and could not escape. Fortunately, noone was injured.
    Among those who spoke up for more action from the Ka'u Community Development Plan Action Committee were Shophia Hanoa, who said that Punalu'u should be a regular item on the Action Committee agenda. She said kupuna and other concerned citizens have been meeting with Punalu'u owners and planners to help insure that the right thing is done for community and environment. She said she has always advocated for transparency and more public involvement and urged the Action Committee to make Punalu'u a regular item on the agenda.
    Another advocate for more action at the Action Committee was Punalu'u resident, fisherman and former County Council member Guy Enriques who asked for the Action Committee to study the Punalu'u plan in light of the Ka'u Community Development Plan in order to give guidance to the community, county Planning Department, and Planning Commission. The commission will hold a public hearing on May 7 for a Special Management Area permit to develop 234 accommodation units and other projects at Punalu'u. Enriques said the Ka'u Community Development Plan is very clear about the desires of the community and that the Action Committee should help make 
sure that development adheres to the KCDP.
    He said it could be helpful if the Action Committee could meet more than quarterly. County Planning Department staff noted that the meetings are now on zoom to encourage more community input.
    Action Committee member Jason Masters made numerous suggestions for agenda items, including Punalu'u and a water bottling plant plan for Pahala.
    Another item that came up is the possibility of establishing a Hawaiian immersion school in Ka'u, possibly at Kamehameha Schools' Kahuku Ranch. Raylene Moses spoke on the subject and said a survey and other outreach to the community and potential sponsors has drawn support.


BROKEN DOWN INFRASTRUCTURE AT PUNALU'U has drawn support for the development plan from two owners of a condominium at Sea Mountain. Vance Bjorn and Matt Baker wrote to the Windward Planning Commission, which is considering issuing a Special Management Area permit for the project and has scheduled a public hearing in Hilo and by zoom for March 7. The two wrote that they support development plans submitted by Black Sand Beach LLC.
    They wrote that "this project represents a critical opportunity for our community, especially in addressing the longstanding infrastructure challenges faced by the Punalu'u area. For over fifty years, the water and wastewater treatment plants serving Punalu'u have operated without significant updates or improvements. Originally designed in the 1970s to accommodate a capacity of 2,500+ units, these facilities now serve only 100 families. This underutilization poses not only a financial inefficiency but also a missed opportunity for modernization and environmental protection for the Punalu'u beach area.
    "The current financial model underpinning our wastewater treatment infrastructure is unsustainable. The cost of investing in and upgrading such a large system for a small number of users is prohibitive without the addition of new homes to share in the financial and environmental benefits of such an investment. The proposed development by Black Sand Beach LLC offers a viable solution to this challenge by expanding the residential and commercial base, thereby making the necessary investments in our water and wastewater treatment facilities financially feasible."
    "The county bathrooms located by the ocean are provided fresh water from the Punalu'u water company, but the environmental benefits of integrating the county bathrooms into the sewer system cannot be overstated. Currently, these facilities rely on septic or cess pool tanks, which require regular pumping and pose a risk to our coastal ecosystems. Connecting them to the sewer lines would represent a significant step forward in our community's efforts to protect and preserve our natural environment. Moreover, it is imperative to address the sustainability and financial viability of the Punalu'u Water System, especially for the 100 families and county bathrooms that are currently depending on it.
    "Should the proposed development by Black Sand Beach LLC not proceed as anticipated, there is a legitimate concern that the developer may discontinue their financial support and /or subsidy for the operation costs of this aging infrastructure. In light of this, we urge the Windward Planning Commission to consider alternative measures or support mechanisms to ensure that these families are not left without essential services or face exorbitant costs for their water and wastewater treatment. Whether through seeking government grants, partnerships, or alternative funding sources, it is crucial that a plan is in place to safeguard the well-being of our community members.
    "In conclusion, the development proposed by Black Sand Beach LLC is more than just a construction project; it is an opportunity for sustainable growth, environmental protection, and water and waste water infrastructure modernization," said the letter from Bjorn and Baker.

LIFE IN PRISON IS THE SENTENCE FOR MURDER FOR NA'ALEHU RESIDENT PATRICIA HANOA WONG. County Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen announced that 62 year-old Wong is sentenced to life in prison and a consecutive 20-year prison term for the June 2009 murder of Kaycee Maile Smith at a residence in the Orchidland Estates subdivision. The victim, also known as "Bug," was a rodeo star and 
graduate of Kamehameha Schools in Kapalama. She was 21 at the time of her death.
    Also indicted was Peter Fuertes, 55, of Ocean View. According to police, Smith's father, Noel "Bear"

Patricia Hanoa Wong, of Naalehu,
gets life in prison for murder.
Smith, likely killed Jeremy Napoleon on June 19, 2007 and turned up dead hours later when his car ran off the road. Police and prosecutors suspect revenge and money involved in these slayings, as well as the slaying of Kaycee Smith. She had a single gunshot wound to her head.
   Fuerte testified to the jury last November that Wong approached him at a water fountain in Ocean View and offered him $15,000 to kill Smith. Fuerte made a plea deal that would avoid a sentence of life in. prison.  
    On Nov. 27, 2023, a Hilo jury found Wong guilty as charged of Murder in the Second Degree, Attempted Murder in the Second Degree, Conspiracy to Commit Murder in the Second Degree, and two counts of Criminal Solicitation.
     Wong appeared in Hilo Circuit Court on Tuesday where she was sentenced to the maximum penalty of life in prison with the possibility of parole for both Murder in the Second Degree and Attempted Murder in the Second Degree. Wong was also sentenced to a concurrent 20-year prison term for two counts of Criminal Solicitation and a single count of Conspiracy to Commit Murder in the Second Degree.
    The Court ordered that the 20-year prison term be served consecutively to the life in prison term. The investigation was handled by Captain Rio Amon-Wilkins and Detective Derek Morimoto, Area I Criminal Investigation Section, Hawai‘i Police Department. 

Rodeo star Kaycee "Bug" Smith
was murdered in 2009.
    The case was prosecuted by Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys Annaliese Wolf and Matt Woodward. “We are glad the Court recognized the severity of the actions taken by the Defendant by handing down a consecutive sentence,” said Wolf. “She made a plan to commit murder and took relentless criminal actions to achieve her goal of killing Kaycee Smith. The Court has provided a clear and strong message to the Defendant that her actions were abhorrent, egregious, and deserved the most serious punishment and that there is no place for this kind of heinous conduct in our community.”
    Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen said, “We hope that this sentencing brings some sense of closure for  Kaycee Smith’s ‘ohana and friends. This would not be possible without the hard work of our police, victim advocates, and prosecutors, especially Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys Annaliese Wolf, Matt Woodward, and Duane Kokesch. I would also like to the thank the jury for their time and service.”
    A statement from the Prosecuting Attorney's office said, "The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney remains dedicated to the pursuit of justice with integrity and commitment. Anyone having information to assist local law enforcement should call Crime Stoppers at (808) 961-8300. #hawaiiprosecutors #hawaiipolicedepartment #."

Under the Bodhi Tree thrift shop has opened at Naalehu Hongwanji as a means to sustain the meal program provided through Naalehu Hongwanji, Vibrant Hawaii, and the Food Basket.  Prepared meals are available Monday and Wednesday from 12"30 to 3:30 PM, on a first come first serve basis.  Dry food bags are available upon request.

Other donors that help sustain "The Hub" are O Ka'u Kakou, Michelle Galimba as our District 6 Councilwoman, Avoland as well as countless volunteer hours provided by community members.
Hours for the Thrift Store are as follows: This may change moving forward.
Monday Wednesday Friday  10-5
Tuesday and Thursday 10-1 and 2-5.
Any questions please message me on messenger on Facebook or DM me  
on Instagram at Naalehu Hub