Local Connections: Keahi Tucker and Poipu

Local Connections: Keahi Tucker and Poipu
Teddy Blake
Teddy Blake
Dick Holtzman
Dick Holtzman
Former Kauai Mayor - Joann Yukimura
Former Kauai Mayor - Joann Yukimura
Louie Abrams
Louie Abrams

By Keahi Tucker - bio | email

POIPU, Kauai (HawaiiNewsNow) - We're kicking off a new series of reports tonight, taking a deeper look at our connections to Hawaii's neighborhoods.

We start with a place that's going through a tremendous transformation.

Kauai's south shore, where I grew up, is about to turn from a small town into a resort megaplex.

To avoid sprawling development, the county has zoned Poipu as a visitor town to keep it all in one place, like Kihei, Kona or Waikiki.

It's a far cry from its roots as an agriculture town.

Hawaii's first sugar company started here in 1835 and shut down in 1996.

The population now is about 1,100. Within a few years, that could triple.

After more than a hundred years and two major hurricanes, the tree tunnel is still there.

So are the horses, the farmers watering taro and the kinds of tin roof houses that seem to melt into the brush.

But past Koloa Road, past the Crazy Shirts where I worked as a teen, things are changing fast.

A sparkling new roundabout scatters drivers to a new shopping center, new halfway-built condos, like giant skeletons and new empty house lots, surrounding archeological treasures.

This ancient 'auwai, or living area, will someday be right in someone's backyard. And many others too.

"And it hurts, it hurts to see my culture just falling to a bulldozers blade," said Poipu preservationist Teddy Blake.

Behind the anguish on Blake's face, is a battle over land and culture, symbolic of all Hawaii.

"You know all the aloha spirit I have in my heart all flow to my finger," Blake said. "And I wasn't shame to go wave this finger at every car and tourist I seen driving down the road and how sad. You know that's not their fault."

It's easy to blame the developers. But as a former hotel worker himself, Blake knows it's more complicated than that. Especially in a down economy.

See, behind the miles of temporary construction barriers is former agriculture land that's been turning to weeds for the last 13 years, ever since the mill shut down.

"I'd remind you that this whole thousand acres were sugar production," said Dick Holtzman.

Holtzman is the president of Kukui'ula Development Company, the biggest project in Poipu history.

"This is a great spot here at Kukui'ula. You have a wonderful vista," he said.

It will be an incredible view for the well-off mainland families, expected to buy luxury vacation or retirement homes.

The billion-dollar project includes 1,500 units, a golf course and club, a hotel and an old sugar reservoir, now marketed as a lake.

"I don't think theres any question it will change the dynamic of the community to a degree," Holtzman said.

A local boy himself, Holtzman understands the critics and reminds them of the upside.

"Just what a powerful impact this is going to be economically, it's not only going to provide many direct jobs, but it is going to create a demand," he said. "Many of the people that you refer to are going to see entrepreneurial business opportunities."

It's been a few years since I lived on Kauai, but I still remember what it's like to have a hotel go up on your favorite beach. When we were kids we used to come through the canefields to go surfing here at Shipwrecks. They built the hotel when I was in high school. The thing is I've had a lot of good memories here: sneaking into the pools; my first kiss; my prom. My mom ended up working here for ten years.

But that was one hotel on one beach. This latest wave of development has been a frenzy.

At one point, as many as 12 projects were pushing forward, without any plan to handle the traffic.

"We're gonna come to gridlock!" said Louie Abrams.

Abrams, with the community association, tried to get the developers to pitch in for public infrastructure.

"We would have a condition or a promise from these developers and they wouldn't keep up with it and that was one of the things that really got everybody pissed off," Abrams said. "They just did not like being deceived."

"On the public end, you're very, very outmaneuvered out-gunned and outlawed," he continued. "When you go to argue about something, the cards are stacked so heavily on the other side."

After years of debate, Kukui'ula is spending $50 million on community improvements, including new roads, parks, and water systems.

Even their critics call them responsible.

But they're one of the few exceptions. Insiders blame a missing link: good government planning.

"Unfortunately, it hasn't happened to the huge detriment to the islands," said former Kauai mayor Joann Yukimura.

Even former mayor and councilwoman Yukimura says the county has failed to implement "smart growth."

"We've made decisions where we can't go back," she said. "If we don't have a good plan in place or a commitment to good planning, it's a very worrisome future."

That brings us back to the past. Surveyors have found more than 700 archaeological sites on land slated for development.

the state has tried to protect what it could, but nearly a hundred sites have already been accidentally destroyed.

"You know what, this is stuff you gotta fight for," Abrams said.

Blake worries there will be more. He's filed a lawsuit to protect cultural sites in his hometown. But he knows, as I do, the Poipu we grew up in is gone forever.

"Everybody talks about the good ole days, but you know the good ole days ain't never coming back," he said.

We should point out the archaeology sites we showed are not at the Kukui'ula development.

Although, there are less significant sites on the property. And since we shot the story we've learned the Kukui'ula president is leaving the company for other business opportunities.