Hawaii County faces a lawsuit from concerned Leilani Estates residents

Now that the eruption has settled, other issues are coming to light.
The security checkpoint at the entrance to Leilani Estates.
The security checkpoint at the entrance to Leilani Estates.(Hawaii News Now/file)
Published: Oct. 29, 2018 at 10:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Residents in Leilani Estates are suing Hawaii County over concerns about access to their neighborhood — a third of which was completely inundated by lava during the Kilauea Eruption.

Early Monday morning, the county decided to maintain a security checkpoint into the subdivision but the group of residents is still going forward with the lawsuit.

Michael Garbarino is the lawyer representing those residents. He says the community board hasn’t had a seat at the table when it comes to decisions about where they live and that keeping the checkpoint in place is just one of the reasons they taking the county to federal court.

“It is inevitable, there is just no doubt in our minds that if the entire neighborhood would open up to the public without a plan, and that’s exactly what was announced to us, what would happen is chaos,” said Garbarino.

Pete Wilson is one of several Leilani Estates residents who had property stolen during the eruption. Beyond security concerns, he's also worried about the extra traffic.

“I wish that they would keep a presence at the top of the street. The possible influx of tourists/visitors would certainly disrupt our lifestyle,” said Wilson.

Mayor Harry Kim announced Monday that the county would extend the 24 hour security checkpoint at the entrance to Leilani Estates. FEMA was covering a majority of that bill but now the county has to figure out how to pay for it through November.

"The first priority is trying to see if I can get an extension from the federal government. If I cannot, I will have to look into our emergency funds from the state and try to see if any of that can be spent," said Kim.

Despite the county’s decision, Garbarino is moving forward with a federal lawsuit. He says there’s no case law for what has happened here. For example, residents are worried about any plan to create a fissure eight viewing area. They also want a bigger voice when it comes to building permits and property value assessment.

“Opening it up tourism is a wonderful idea that many support but it has to be done in a way that is respectful. What everyone needs to remember and respect is that the entire flow feild, fissure eight, all of it, is private property - it belongs to my clients,” added Garbarino.

Mayor Harry Kim says the county hopes to work out some kind of plan for a lava viewing area before this month-long checkpoint extension is over. The cost of maintaing the 24-hour security is $100,000 every month.

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