Decade After Condemnation, State Still Owns Homes on Ancient Hawaiian Fish Pond

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Just over a decade ago, Tad Hara, 84, lived in his dream home, which was a simple two-story wooden house built over a vibrant ancient Hawaiian fishpond, just steps from the stunning beach in East Oahu’s Niu community.

The home was special in that its living room floor was transparent glass, so from inside, or from his outside porch, he could watch his exotic Koi swirling and swimming with wild mullet, prawns, crabs and other sea and fresh water creatures.


The home was special in that its living room floor was transparent glass, so from inside, or from his outside porch, he could watch his exotic Koi swirling and swimming with wild mullet, prawns, crabs and other sea and fresh water creatures.

After serving in the Army during WWII, he graduated from the University of Hawaii, and later worked in insurance and real estate. He says the peace he found in his home meant so much to him.

Hara had a state champion Koi, which two years in a row, was deemed the most prized in Hawaii because it had four colors (white, red, blue and black). That Koi alone was valued at $1,500, and he had another 150 Koi in his pond as well. At night, he could turn on a rainbow of lights, and through the glass floor, watch the fish come and greet him and his three children.

For 23 years, Hara and his son and two daughters had many happy memories in that home. They enjoyed walking up to a mile out in the ocean to catch their dinner. They looked for octopus, crab, Papio and other reef fish.

Nui beach fronting Hara's home

And they cherished caring for the beloved fishpond, which continued to flourish.

The pond’s history is detailed by Chris Cramer of the Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center here: Cramer says that “Kalauha’eha’e or the Lucas Spring was the site of King Kamehameha and Queen Ka’ahumanu’s royal kalo patch and former summer home before it was given to Alexander Adams, King Kamehameha’s captain as part of the land grant of Niu.”

To protect the spring and pond, Hara registered it with the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “Ancient Hawaiians valued their water. I tried to respect the Hawaiian culture by maintaining and caring for the pond,” Hara says.

The Hara family lived just beside his friend and real estate business partner, Larry Lee, and they would see each other often.

Tad Hara's home

Hara portrays his Niu home as a magical place where he and his family were happy.

That all changed in the early 1990s when the state Department of Transportation widened Kalanianaole Highway from 4 lanes to 6. The DOT condemned three feet of his street-front property, or 50 plus feet total, and had to rebuild his garage in the process. But that wasn’t a problem for him – he did not mind giving up a portion of his property to the state for that purpose.

What alarmed him was while working across the street, DOT contractors damaged the fresh water spring that ran via his property from the mountain to the ocean. He walked across the street to warn the project manager several times that the workers needed to be careful of the natural underground spring but they ignored him, and laid cement conduits and electrical and cable wires on top of the treasured waterway. His neighbor called him at work one day to tell him that his pond was dry, and the fish were flopping around on the now muddy area. The fish died.

Hara fought the state for four years to get the spring “Kalauha’eha’e” restored.

At first, the state promised to fix its mistake, but then took that option away citing cost. In a fierce legal battle, the state refused to meet his requests at every turn until he finally, after being drained financially, he surrendered his property and home.

Tad Hara

His property value was slashed nearly in half by the loss of the spring and pond.

Hara, who was in real estate at the time, says his appraiser valued the home at nearly $1 million, but the DOT gave him about $550,000. After taxes, and $35,000 in lawyer’s fees, the state relocated him to a home Hara purchased in Aiea Heights. He still lives there today, even though he doesn’t like it. “It’s too cold in Aiea and it’s not the beach,” Hara says, but he could not afford any place else.

That was 1998, and nearly a dozen years later not much has changed, except his former home and that of his neighbor are giving way to termites and mold.

No one lives on the property except the occasional homeless person who breaks a window to get in and camp inside. The vagrants also use the toilet, even though there is no plumbing, leaving behind a stinky mess for the DOT employees to clean up and other camping and food items to remove.

Hara is bitter about the state’s handling of his situation, how they took his home, ruined an important ancient pond they should have protected, and then let the home deteriorate.

His life has changed drastically. He’s hasn’t fished since he lost his home and he gave away his high priced handmade fishing gear for just pennies on the dollar.

“You lose something when someone takes away your pride and joy,” Hara says about why he stopped fishing.

Still sad about losing his home, Hara points out that in all those years, no one from the government apologized to him. Hara says: “No one said, ‘I am sorry we created this problem for you’ … These people do not have a heart.”

But if state officials took possession of their properties rather than restoring the spring in order to save money, the plan likely backfired.

The time line below and other correspondence provided by the state Department of Transportation’s Right of Way division, shows since 1999, the state Department of Transportation tried multiple times to auction off what the agency now calls the “disposable” Kalanianaole Highway properties. The DOT has been through an extensive preparation process before the planned auctions, including getting estimates of the property values, performing yard maintenance, and interior cleaning. The DOT also had to repair damage done to a neighbor’s wall and address an old seawall fronting the properties.

When the properties were about to be auctioned off, one or another state agency would make a demand on the DOT. For example, in 2007 the Department of Land and Natural Resources ordered the DOT to perform an Archeological Inventory Study, a process that involved the state hiring and paying for a contractor to check the site for bones or artifacts.

Intermittent orders like these would then delay the state’s ability to auction the property – and start the cycle of preparation all over again.

Other delays were caused when non-profits or other government agencies tried to acquire the property for themselves because of its historical pond and stunning beachfront.

That happened two years ago in January 2008 when representatives from the Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center, Lt. Governor James Duke Aiona, DOT Director Brennon Morioka, the Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center Director, the Malama Maualua Organization Director, and other members of community visited the site in hopes of acquiring the property.

The University of Hawaii (UH) Hawaiian studies and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration also tried to get possession.

But all these groups have so far failed to acquire the properties because of rules, regulations – and primarily funds.

Throughout this nearly 12-year saga, an estimated 22 government agencies and their divisions and representatives have had at least some involvement with the property.

Those include the DOT Director, DOT Highways Division, DOT Right of Way Division, the Federal Highways Administration, the US Fish and Wildlife agency, NOAA, Board of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and its sub agencies, the State Historic Preservation Division and the Bureau of Conveyances. Other agencies involved include the state attorney general, state Department of Accounting and General Services, the lieutenant governor’s office, the City’s Board of Water Supply, the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and its Regulated Industries Complaints Office and the Contractors License Board. Then there were Office of Hawaiian Affairs, UH-Manoa, UH Center for Hawaiian Studies, UH Facilities Department, and UH General Counsel.

The bureaucratic saga isn’t likely to be over soon.

Brennon Morioka, who inherited this situation when he became DOT Director in March 2008, says when the DOT took 4 homes including Hara’s and Lee’s in the 1990s during the highway-widening project, it was not ideal or common:

“It is not our desire to acquire lands that do not serve a public highway purpose as it does require some level of maintenance. This is the primary reason we would like some resolution soon either to transfer lands with another public agency or to dispose of the property via public auction.”

However, Morioka says the DOT is still on hold as far as going out to public auction. “… we are still awaiting some final discussions with NOAA to see if they are still interested in the property. There may have also been discussions with OHA on this issue as well. So we do not have a schedule as of yet to go out to public auction until we have exhausted all other avenues to do a three-party transfer between governmental agencies. … If we do not find another government agency that wants the parcels, then we will look to auction off all four properties.”

Jamie Story, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, says it’s always the tendency of government to go after new projects while leaving old or unfinished ones by the wayside. She adds that “particularly in these tough economic times, when government employee furloughs and private-sector layoffs are impacting the families of Hawaii, our government should quit holding on to needless expenses and liabilities such as these properties.”

Hara hopes that soon, the home he has such fond memories of, will be purchased by a caring owner or be taken over by a fishpond group so its members can restore the important Hawaiian fishpond.

“I lived in a paradise and there is no way to replace what I lost. It was a godsend.”

Malia Zimmerman is the editor of Hawaii Reporter and has worked for ABC 20/20, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. She conducted this research and investigation for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Thanks to Tad Hara for speaking about his experience and to the Department of Transportation employees who worked extensively to provide the timeline below.

Photo of Tad Hara courtesy of Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center web site

Kalanianaole Highway Widening Project – Timeline for 5841 Kalanianaole Highway – Provided by the DOT Right of Way Division

  • April 28, 1998 – Acquisition of 5839 & 5841 Kalanianaole Highway subject properties and relocation of previous owners has been completed.
  • July 16, 1999 – DOT professional survey completed for 5839 & 5841 Kalanianaole Highway properties and neighbors previous request for staking. Survey disclosed nine encroachments involving the subject properties.
  • August 16, 1999 – Department of Transportation request to Department of Planning and Permitting for subdivision of the two lots
  • November 19, 1999 – Department of Transportation request to Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to dispose of 5839 & 5841 Kalanianaole Highway by public auction. Request approved by BLNR at its meeting on 11/19/1999.
  • February 26, 2000 – State’s Contractors License Board and Regulated Industries Complaints Office under the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs conduct sting operation from the properties to catch contractors violating state law.
  • February 26, 2000 – Request from the Contractors License Board of the State of Hawaii, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to use 5839 & 5841 Kalanianaole Highway properties for Regulated Industries Complaints Office to use the properties to conduct sting operations to enforce licensing laws.
  • March 21, 2000 – DOT conditional approval for Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to use 5839 & 5841 Kalanianaole Highway properties to conduct their sting operations.
  • October 1, 2000 – DOT letter to appraiser to extend completion date time frame to October 9, 2000.
  • June 18, 2002 – DOT request to Federal Highways Administration for approval to dispose of the two properties by public auction.
  • August 13, 2002 – Note on Status of Public Auction – postponed to work with DLNR to correct previously identified rock wall encroachment for seaward boundary of property.
  • September 13, 2002 – DOT request to DLNR for a right of entry to demolish the rock wall encroaching onto DLNR lands to clear encumbrances on property to sell at public auction.
  • February 18, 2003 – DOT issued conditional letter to Board of Water Supply for Use and Occupancy for the areas of 3-8-2 and 3.
  • August 4, 2003 – DOT letter to abutting neighbor with enclosed Party Wall agreement and Use and Occupancy agreement to resolve existing wall encroachment.
  • September 12, 2003 – DOT request and approval by BLNR for approval to enter Use and Occupancy and Party Wall agreement for the properties abutting the two subject properties.
  • October 23, 2003 – DOT letter to abutting neighbor with enclosed revised Party Wall Agreement for the wall encroachment.
  • March 16, 2004 – First amended final order of condemnation for 5839 Kalanianaole Highway recorded at Bureau of Conveyances.
  • August 12, 2004- Second Amended Final Order of Condemnation for 5839 Kalanianaole Highway.
  • August 18, 2004 – First Amended Final Order of Condemnation for 5841 Kalanianaole Highway.
  • November 18, 2004 – Request for appraisal for the two properties to establish fair market value for disposition at public auction.
  • June 19, 2006 – DOT letter to DLNR for execution of party wall agreement for the abutting neighbor and the 5839 Kalanianaole Highway.
  • July 14, 2006 – Party wall agreement recorded with abutting neighbor and 5839 Kalanianaole Highway.
  • July 11, 2007 – DOT request letter to Fish and Wildlife for a list of threatened and endangered species that may occur within or near the properties slated for public auction.
  • July 11, 2007 – DOT request to State Historic Preservation Division for comments and recommendations regarding the disposal of the two properties slated for public auction.
  • July 24, 2007 – Purchase Requisition approved for termite inspection for the two properties.
  • September 7, 2007 – Termite inspection performed for the two properties.
  • October 9, 2007 – State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) letter to DOT requesting an Archeological Inventory Study (AIS) to be conducted prior to the disposition due to their beliefs that burials and cultural features may be identified during AIS will be better mitigated for and protected while on State property than on private lands.
  • October 17, 2007 – Fish and Wildlife response letter to DOT stating that it is unlikely that the sale of the two properties would have an effect on the federally listed species.
  • October 29, 2007 – DOT request for proposal to archeologists for Archeologist Inventory Study for the two properties.
  • October 30, 2007 – HWY-RM request for meeting with DAGS to discuss procurement procedures for AIS.
  • October 30, 2007 – HWY-RM request to SHPD representative to bypass AI and incorporate provisions in Deed for the new owner to be responsible for AIS if deemed necessary by SHPD.
  • October 30, 2007 – HWY-RM email to Director informing him of AIS requirement by SHPD and that we are currently taking bids for AIS.
  • November 1, 2007 – Meeting with T.S. Dye & Colleagues for proposal for AIS.
  • November 2, 2007- SHPD response denying request to change requirements due to the reasoning that if any historical properties or human burials are found they would be better protected while in State’s possession.
  • November 7, 2007 – Meeting with Scientific Consultants Service Inc. for proposal for AIS.
  • November 8, 2007 – HWY-RM sent email with pictures explaining that accessibility for areas to test for burials or artifacts is severely limited due to the existing structures, improvements and concrete lined pond. Also explained that after meeting with three archeologists that even if we tested accessible areas the remaining inaccessible areas would still be subject to monitoring should the improvements be demolished. HWY-RM requested meeting at site for further evaluation and consideration by SHPD.
  • November 9, 2007 – Meeting with DAGS to discuss procurement procedures and process for acquiring archeologists to conduct Archeological Inventory Study required by State of Hawaii Historic Preservation Division.
  • December 19, 2007 – Letter from Reeve’ Ohana in support of a community effort to protect the pond and interest in the two properties and in preservation of the ponds for public interest usage.
  • January 2, 2008 – Due to the issues identified by the archeological consultants, SHPD determined there was no need for a full Archeological Inventory Study. Instead the Department says any quit-claim deed or lease agreement with future owners should include the opportunity monitor ground disturbing activities.
  • January 2, 2008 – Due to the issues identified by the archeological consultants, SHPD revised requirements eliminating the need to have AIS and in lieu of AIS request that the quit claim deed or lease agreement include provision for prior to any ground disturbing activities on the subject parcels SHPD will have the opportunity to review activities and the appropriate form of mitigation. As determined by SHPD will be conducted prior to commencing any ground disturbing activities.
  • January 25, 2008 – Meeting scheduled with Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center representatives, Lt. Governor, DOT Director, Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center Director, Malama Maualua Organization Director, members of community
  • February 4, 2008 – Letter from UH Manoa to Lt. Governor expressing interest in the property by Hawai’inuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge as a research center.
  • February 6, 2008 – Letter to Reeve’s Ohana from Lt. Governor acknowledging the Reeve’s Ohana support for preservation of the fishponds in the area and informed them of the laws regarding disposal of properties acquired with federal funding.
  • February 19, 2008 – Site meeting at the two properties with Lt. Governor staff, DOT Director, Mauanlua Fishpond Heritage Center Director, Right of Way Manager,
  • March 14, 2008 – DOT request to FHWA for approval to dispose of the two properties at public auction.
  • March 27, 2008 – DOT letters to Archaeologists informing them of the cancellation of the project due to a change of requirement by SHPD.
  • April 8, 2008 – FHWA approval granted to DOT’s request to dispose of the two properties at public auction.
  • June 16, 2008- Site inspection with UH Representative, Center for Hawaiian Studies Representative, UH Manoa Facilities Representative, and General Counsel Representative.
  • July 23, 2008 – Email informing District Office of break-in at 5839 Kalanianaole Highway and request to secure property. Informed District that HWY-RM was meeting locksmith on 7-25-08 to meet with locksmith to gain entry into 5841 Kalanianaole Highway and would give copy of new key.
  • July 27, 2008 – Public Auction packet sent to AG for review and approval in preparation for public auction should another public agency not be able to take possession of the properties.
  • July 28, 2008 – Email to District Office informing them of findings on 7-25-08. HWY-RM met with locksmith. It was noted that someone is currently trespassing onto the property and is presently living in the downstairs bedroom; police were notified and police report filed. Locksmith rekeyed entry door. HWY-RM requested for removal of existing items, cleaning of residence and securing the property at 5839 Kalanianaole Highway.
  • July 28, 2008 – Response from Chris Cramer, Director of Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center informing HWY-RM that UH and the community is anxious to complete the inspections for the two properties. HWY-RM replied that they are in process of removing items left at property, securing, and cleaning the premises and will schedule appointments when deemed safe and sanitary to enter.
  • August 12, 2008 – Requisition approved for the general cleaning for the two properties.
  • October 2, 2008 – AG approval for the Public Auction Packet.
  • October 7, 2008 – UH and DLNR were sent copies of Public Auction Packet and instructions to work on possible land swap with UH or DLNR for current projects.
  • December 24, 2008 – Request from member of Maunalua Fishpond Heritage for volunteer architect to inspect the structures so he can provide estimates to bring the structures to code.
  • January 7, 2009 – Meeting with NOAA representative scheduled for January 23, 2009.
  • September 25, 2009 – DOT request to HHFDC to see if they were interested in the two properties to swap for land for other projects.
  • October 8, 2009 – DLNR review, recommendations, and approval of Public Auction documents.