LIHU‘E — A controversial permit to fence off the easiest access to Lepe‘uli, known as Larsen’s Beach, was surrendered last month. But Paradise Ranch may still go ahead and fence off the access to protect the conservation district land next to this secluded North Shore beach.
The lateral access to Lepe‘uli runs parallel to the beach and guarantees an effortless walk down from a 140-foot elevation. However, the lateral access is on private property, and there are already two county-owned trails that guarantee access to Lepe‘uli.
Following the permit’s withdrawal, community members who had opposed the fence immediately cried victory. But before they were able to finish their victory lap, ranch workers placed two metal posts resembling a fence foundation at the entrance of the trail, prompting further outcry from those trying to preserve the access that goes through private property.
Paradise Ranch owner Bruce Laymon, however, said the metal posts are not fence posts.
Over the years, ranch workers have put up quite a few land demarcation posts, establishing the boundaries of the land Laymon leases from landowner Waioli Corporation, a private non-profit organization. But those posts keep being vandalized.
Tired of replacing the boundary demarcations, Laymon said he decided to install metal posts to indicate the property limits.
Despite the metal posts being something else other than fence posts, the fence will still go up, according to Laymon.
Lepe‘uli, one of Kaua‘i’s most beautiful beaches, is a pristine strip of sandy beach approximately two-miles long and surrounded by cliffs, reefs with potentially deadly undercurrents and 600-plus acres of agricultural and conservation lands.
In 2002, Paradise Ranch signed a lease with Waioli to raise cattle. The land has mostly been used for pasture since 1854, two years after Abner Wilcox bought it.
In 2005, the ranch was approved by the Natural Resources and Conservation Service for up to $110,000 cost sharing for cross fencing, brush management and water lines.
Laymon said a fence to contain cattle was in bad conservation shape, and many portions were irreparable. Because he decided to replace the fencing, instead of fixing it, his action triggered the need for a permit.
A small portion of the land, closer to the beach, falls into conservation district, requiring a permit from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for anything to be built. The entire land is zone agricultural, with a Special Management Area overlay.
In August 2009, Laymon sought approval from the BLNR for a landscaping plan involving the fencing, which was intended to contain cattle from wandering into the beach.
Laura Thielen, then-chair of BLNR, unilaterally approved the permit Feb. 16 without a public hearing or a BLNR vote. Laymon said the BLNR later reconvened and unanimously voted for the permit.
On March 1, Kaua‘i Resident Linda Sproat appealed the decision and requested a contested case hearing. Surfrider Foundation and Malama Moloa‘a also submitted a petition.
On May 13, the BLNR denied her request and Sproat appealed to the Honolulu circuit court.
When Democrat Neil Abercrombie took office in December, replacing Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, he appointed William Aila Jr. as head of the DLNR, replacing Thielen.
In a letter last month, the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands recommended the BLNR grant Sproat’s request for a contested case. But two days before the BLNR was supposed to decide whether to grant a contested case, the permit was withdrawn.
Laymon said the permit withdrawal had nothing to do with the change in the government or in the BLNR.
Instead of spending several thousand dollars in a legal battle, Laymon simply decided to pull the fencing back, out of conservation district, and into agricultural land.
In agricultural lands, fencing usually does not require a permit. But because the land has an SMA overlay, Laymon requested and acquired a county SMA minor permit, which are required for projects under $125,000.
The entrance to the lateral access also falls into agricultural land. One of the conditions in the county permit was that “the location of the fence is subject to approval by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Na Ala Hele to ensure public access to and along the lateral coastal trail.”
Laymon said that because the ranch pulled the fence out of the conservation district, the DLNR has no say in it anymore.
The parallel access to Lepe‘uli is believed by many to be part of the ala loa, an ancient trail that goes around the entire coast of Kaua‘i.
Na Ala Hele, Hawai‘i’s trail and access program, said on Sept. 9, 2009 that a historical trail may have once traversed the property, but the government did not make a claim for any trails through the property when the land was registered in the Land Court system in 1943.
Laymon denied the access is the ala loa, saying the lateral trail was actually bulldozed many years ago. It wouldn’t make sense for the ala loa to be there, he said, because it would end up in a cliff.
The beach has been used for generations by local fishermen and beachgoers.
In 1979, Waioli sold a side of beach access, 3.6 acres, to the county for $6,900, according to Laymon. The corporation ended up paying for permits and subdivisions, which totaled approximately $30,000, even thought it was the county’s responsibility.
Over the years, residents mistakenly used an access right next to the county-owned access, thinking it was the county’s access. Adding to the confusion, county workers mistakenly maintained the side access next to the county-owned access.
Last August the county secured the access that had been mistakenly used, in an offer from Waioli, providing an extra and safer access to residents.
But the battle to keep the lateral access continued on, until the BLNR permit was surrendered, giving false the impression the ranch wouldn’t build a fence anymore.
Over the years, Larsen’s, along with Secrets Beach, also on the North Shore, and Donkey’s Beach, on the Eastside, developed a reputation of clothes-optional beaches.
Several websites list Larsen’s as a clothes-optional beach.
An amendment in 1991 to the Hawai‘i law renamed sexual assault in the fifth-degree to indecent exposure, which was intended to deal with nude sunbathing or streaking, likely an affront to a substantial part of the community, according to the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes.
Indecent exposure is a petty misdemeanor in Hawai‘i, according to the HRS.
“A person commits the offense of indecent exposure if, the person intentionally exposes the person’s genitals to a person to whom the person is not married under circumstances in which the actor’s conduct is likely to cause affront,” HRS states.
People convicted of indecent exposure are not sex offenders, therefore not required to register as sex offenders, HRS states.
Laymon said a group of nude bathers have approached his son, surrounded him and asked him if he felt uncomfortable. One of the beachgoers was holding a video camera. Ever since then, Laymon said he has instructed all his employees to not answer back and always carry a camera.
Trespassing and trash
The Kaua‘i Ultimate Guide Book tells tourists to “go through the cattle guard and follow the trail to the bottom. … The beach is a 5-10 minute walk down the hill.”
The author goes on to tell the readers that “if you pass through a herd of cows on the trail, try to discourage them from following you down to the beach. Cattle and beaches don’t mix.”
Laymon said those who use the lateral trail are trespassing private property. Neither Waioli nor Paradise Ranch have authorized or consented to trespassing, he said, and will continue to take legal steps to protect property rights and interests, even if signs continue to be torn down.
One of the main problems in Lepe‘uli, besides the nudity, is the illegal camping. Illegal campers have left so much trash behind that a beach cleanup last March, organized by the ranch, resulted in five truckloads of trash hauled away from the property, according to Laymon.
Vandalism has also been a problem. Trespassers have initiated fires and cut up a fuel line in a piece of equipment, Laymon said. One of the trespassers attempted to cut the brake line of a riding lawnmower, which could have caused major injury or death, said Laymon, explaining that the sloped terrain would have contributed for a disaster.
Laymon said Waioli has engaged in good faith discussion with Sproat and her family to ensure native Hawaiian rights wouldn’t have been interfered with by a fence. But the Sproats “asked for too much,” said Laymon, adding the Sproats asked for an access gate to remain unlocked.
Fishermen have used the county access for generations, according to Laymon, because the access is closer to where limu and fish are more abundant. If native Hawaiian rights were the reason for a beach access, then the two legal, county-owned accesses are more appropriate.
Years ago, a monk seal was relocated to Lepe‘uli, by Laymon’s initiative, he said.
Preserving the quality of life on Kaua‘i’s North Shore is a matter for discussion and disagreement, Laymon said. Protecting private property rights, maintaining the property in clean and safe condition and providing additional access are all matters which improve quality of life.
The conservation district area will not be used for cattle ranching, but Laymon said he still wants to preserve it and protect it from illegal campers, trash, nudity, vandals and trespassers.