The Battle for Papa‘a Bay

is legendary for its beaches, many of them immortalized by Hollywood. As old coastal
trails and roads disappear behind fences and manicured landscaping, however, folks
may find it easier to rent the movies showcasing these famous locales than to
actually go there.

Such is the case with Päpa’a Bay. The idyllic bay’s
white sands and turquoise waters relieved the tedium of the 1998 Harrison Ford-Anne
Heche film Six Days Seven Nights. Access to the isolated beach-located about 10
miles north of Kapa’a-has become a contentious issue since movie producer Peter
Guber purchased the adjoining Päpa’a Ranch lands several years back to build a
coastal estate.

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Almost immediately, he began alienating
some local residents, who suspected he was trying to turn the crescent of white
sand fronting his property into a de facto private beach. Surfers and fishermen
grumbled when Guber rerouted the Päpa’a Bay access trail to a steeper, more circuitous
path. The new trailhead is reached through a privately owned vacant lot that could
be closed off. Workmen building Guber’s lavish oceanfront home, meanwhile, complained
they couldn’t even eat lunch on the beach when he was on-site.

Guber also
erected a gate topped with barbed wire across county-owned Päpa’a Road where it
crosses his land, not far from the ocean. In early 2002, then-Mayor Maryanne Kusaka
urged t-he County Council to sell Guber that end bit of road, arguing it had no
public value, because it ended 300 feet from the beach.

However, some citizens
objected, contending the road originally ran all the way to the beach and should
be reopened for public access to Päpa’a Bay. They found a champion in Kaua’i councilman
Gary Hooser, who earlier had been told by Guber’s workers that he couldn’t walk
on the private beach. However, the issue languished when Hooser moved from the
Council to the state Senate, where he now faces a reelection challenge from Kusaka.


The debate resurfaced late last year when
citizens staged a “take back the beach” event after uncovering documents they
claim prove the public road originally ended at the sand. Attorneys for Guber,
who is trying to sell Päpa’a Ranch, fired off letters threatening organizers with
possible legal action and asked police to stand by. Four people, including three
Hawaiians seeking access under state indigenous gathering laws, were arrested
for trespassing. The County agreed to conduct a title search to resolve the dispute.

conflict goes deeper than legal easements, underscoring more troubling social
changes on Kaua’i. In the old days of neighborly reciprocity, former ranch manager
Duke Wellington recalls, access wasn’t an issue, because fishermen obviously needed
the road to haul their heavy nets to the bay. New landowners, however, apparently
are either unaware of such needs, or are unwilling to share, prompting some locals
to bemoan the death of a lifestyle built on cooperation and aloha.