Neighbors say the blocked access creates safety concerns and diminishes their quality of life. He wants to contain his cattle.

When Paul Moody moved from Los Angeles to the Big Island earlier this year, he was expecting some newfound tranquility and maybe a touch of Hawaii’s aloha spirit.

But shortly after signing ownership papers on his new house in Laupahoehoe in December, the Oahu-born Moody discovered he had a big problem: Two gates with locks had been installed on the main road leading to his property.

His real estate agent first encountered the gates while checking on the property for Moody in January when he was still living in California.

Laupahoehoe community members are frustrated by the recent installation of two gates blocking a road long used for hiking, hunting and public enjoyment. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)
Laupahoehoe community members are frustrated by the recent installation of two gates blocking a road long used for hiking, hunting and public enjoyment. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

Located high in the grassy hills of Laupahoehoe on the island’s windward coast, Moody’s house is nestled along Kihalani Homestead Road, a former sugarcane corridor that slices through property owned by Kamehameha Schools, the state’s largest private landowner.

That property is leased by Darcy Nobriga, who runs Double D Ranch and sells locally raised beef and other meats.

Within the last year, Nobriga erected two gates on the former cane road with the permission of Kamehameha Schools. Nobriga said he did so to keep his cattle from escaping.

Managing access allows for “productive use of the lands by our tenants” while also accommodating requests for access by the public, Kamehameha Schools spokesperson Crystal Kua said in an email.

The gates allow Nobriga to run an active cattle operation and to prevent vandalism, she said.

But the decision to gate off the road has caused major angst among many of Nobriga’s neighbors — not just Moody.

“I walked up that road at least three times a week for 24 years,” said Laupahoehoe resident Phoebe Mills. “It’s a quality of life thing for me and so many others.”

Residents, including children, used to walk, bike and ride horses or all-terrain vehicles on the road and have done so for decades, Mills and other longtime residents said.

Laupahoehoe community members are frustrated by the recent installation of two gates blocking a road long used for hiking, hunting and public enjoyment. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)
Paul Moody closes one of two gates he now has to pass through to reach his property in Laupahoehoe. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

Sculptor Holly Young, who lives nearby, said besides the loss of recreational opportunities, she’s concerned the road closure may present access problems for emergency responders.

The Hawaii County Fire Department disputes that, but it also is a worry for Moody.

On March 18, he fell down stairs chasing a rooster at his house, fracturing the wrist of one arm and the elbow of the other, he said. He felt it would be impossible for an ambulance to reach his house because of the locked gates. Instead, his wife drove him to the hospital in pain.

Hawaii County Deputy Fire Chief Eric Moller said the department could have responded if Moody had called. He said his department is aware of the gate situation but feels that firefighters and other emergency responders would be able to reach Moody’s property via an unmaintained road that runs from his house to Spencer Road, a paved mauka-to-makai road that connects with Mamalahoa Highway.

“We have talked with the in-district Captains, and they feel they can access if required,” Moller said in an email.

‘Road In Limbo’

Moody has keys to the gates Nobriga erected under a right-of-entry agreement with Kamehameha Schools. Under that agreement, he pays $1,200 a year for the keys that give him the easier road access to his house. Moody said he reluctantly paid the money and signed the agreement, but he’s resentful about it and wants the county to somehow get the gates removed.

“I had to conform to their extreme demands to get a key to the gates. This has been a sugarcane road for the past 40 or more years,” Moody told the county.

That’s not the way Nobriga sees it. In his view, he had every right to erect the gates and if neighbors don’t like it, too bad.

“It’s private property. It’s not a county road or anything,” he said. “They were trespassing for 30 or 40 years. They should have been arrested.”

He notes that Moody has an alternate way to reach Mamalahoa Highway. It’s a rough, windy and narrow dirt road that generally requires four-wheel drive to navigate and routinely floods during storms. The county considers it a “road in limbo,” said Sherise Kanae-Kane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

Laupahoehoe community members are frustrated by the recent installation of two gates blocking a road long used for hiking, hunting and public enjoyment. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)
An alternate access route from Paul Moody’s property is rough and vulnerable to flash flooding during major storms. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

Moody and others say it’s unreasonable to expect residents to rely on the unmaintained road as their only means to get in or out of their homes.

“Talk to the county,” Nobriga said.

He offered another solution to Moody: “Sell the property and move closer to a hospital.”

Paying For Access

Nobriga said if others want access to the road, they should call Kamehameha Schools and sign a right-of-way agreement. If anyone gets hurt on the road, it’s the landowner’s responsibility, he noted.

Kamehameha Schools agreed with Nobriga that the road is private. But Kua said Kamehameha Schools is “sincere about finding solutions when access across our lands to adjacent properties becomes necessary.”

“We have made right-of-entry forms available upon request and have received one request to date,” she said.

Moody’s right of entry requires him to carry a $1 million liability insurance policy. It also says he must provide the property owner no less than 48 hours prior written notice of each entry onto the property, the purpose of the entry, the names of the authorized people and the anticipated duration of the entry.

Steve Pause, director of the Department of Public Works, said the road is not within county jurisdiction. 

“The landowner requesting access to their property may have prescriptive rights to use the private road, but these would have to be confirmed via Court action,” he said by email.

By prescriptive rights, Pause means that public access could be grandfathered in by a judge under certain circumstances.

“If the public used it continuously for 20+ years and the landowner knew it and never stopped them, they may have acquired a prescriptive easement,” said Oahu-based attorney Mike Biechler, an expert in land rights law.

He was not familiar with the facts or history surrounding Kihalani Homestead Road, but said in general some landowners may agree to grant an easement and put it in writing. If not, the only way to get a prescriptive easement is to file a lawsuit and prevail in court.

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