The History, Biology, Geology and Current Living Conditions of Hawaiian Acres
In 1958, two mainland businessmen from Denver, Colorado, Glen I. Payton and David F. O'Keefe organized a Hawaii Corporation called Tropic Estates. They purchased 12,191 acres of land between Kurtistown and Mountain View from Big Island politician and businessmen, Robert M. Yamada.
The land was divided into 4,008 lots and put on the market for $500.00 to $1,000.00 each, with terms as low as $150.00 down and $8.00 per month. The project was named Hawaiian Acres. The lots sold very well.
Hawaiian Acres became the first of many speculative subdivisions to be created. This subdivision boom continued until its end in 1975. Infrastructure was not provided. HI County Planning discussed buying these lots, reasoning that should this subdivision reach build-out the county could go bankrupt providing the required infrastructure. It was an ominous economic forecast indeed.
As it developed, few people actually resided in Hawaiian Acres in those early years. Though the lots sold well, few would find the rustic nature and rural lifestyle to their suiting. The type of people to make such a lifestyle change and commitment were either those who could afford nothing else, or who sought the relief and seclusion from the ever maddening urbanization of Oahu or the mainland, from where most came.
The people who endured this ruralness came to love and respect the treasure they had found; those who didn't moved on. The absence of modern amenities tended to separate the dreamers and want-to-bes from the doers and pioneers. As the years passed, the trend that attracted those pioneer spirited people continued, and it does so to this day. The difference between the early day pioneers and the modern ones is simply the difference that modern technology has had on society in those 30 plus years. Those who came in the beginning could expect slow police and fire response, no electrical service, unmaintained roads, rudimentary water catchment, poor communication systems, outhouses, and distant neighbors.
Today with community association maintained roads, improved police and fire response, a volunteer fire department, a working neighborhood watch program, the availability of alternative energy, satellite television, a fair telephone system, refined water catchment, and cesspools, those who make the move now can hardly go wrong. Hawaiian Acres is a great place to seek the good life. It offers privacy, abundant rainforest and rain (130"-200" per year), scenic vistas of 2 active volcanoes (Pu'u Oo and Mauna Loa) as well as the inactive Mauna Kea, sweeping views of the Pacific ocean, trade winds, access to state land for hunting and traditional gathering of medicinal herbs, and reasonable insulation from the dreaded city life that most came to escape.
Hawaiian Acres, under the State Land Use Law is zoned agricultural. It is composed mostly of 3 acre lots with a few larger and a few smaller. Of the 72 miles of roadway, fewer than 10 miles are paved. Telephone service is available to about 90% of the subdivision, with electrical service at an estimated 50%. Most residents in some way or another employ alternative energy. Examples are solar electricity a.k.a. photovoltaic, solar water heating, and generator production of power, etc. All Hawaiian Acres homes use some type of rain catchment to obtain their supply for household use of water. Some residents haul in their drinking water if their catchment system is inadequate or contaminated.
At an elevation of 650' to 1350', Hawaiian Acres sits on lava flows that range from 200-750 years in age. Some G-road lots are on flows that date to 3000 years in age. The predominant vegetation or flora consists of Ohia forest interspersed with tree ferns, false staghorn fern and the introduced Guava and Tibouchina, as well as numerous other less obvious native and introduced species.
The natural wildlife or fauna consists of the rare Hawaiian Hoary Bat (Ope'ape'a), and the endangered Hawaiian Hawk, (I'o), as well as other endangered honeycreepers that visit from higher elevations. The latter may be reestablishing its presence here, which was its natural habitat prior to the introduced avian malaria and po that significantly reduced healthy populations. Introduced species of fauna include wild pigs, mongoose, and numerous avian species, with some of these being agricultural pests.
Hawaiian Acres has some unique geological features, such as its numerous lava tubes or caves. Some, if not all, have unique inhabitants that may have evolved within, and are found nowhere else on earth. Kazimura Cave is now known as the world's longest lava cave at nearly 40 miles, and with several entrances within Hawaiian Acres. A few caves are yet to be discovered, as entrances can be small and well hidden. Other geological features include tree molds, deep cracks, collapsed lava bubbles, and collapsed lava caves. The latter two are host to pockets or islands of vegetation that over the years have bee protected from forest fire, thus enabling them to survive.
One manmade feature that has had a significant impact on Hawaiian Acres is the series of water diversion walls that total over half a mile in length and up to 12' in height, that channel water into Hawaiian Acres. This channel receives overflow from the Mt. View Drainage project developed by the county. This overflow can and has reached five feet or more in heavy rains. These walls were built by Olaa Sugar Company (AMFAC) starting in 1938, to divert floodwaters away from sugarcane fields along the Mauna Loa-Kilauea boundary into what was then considered wasteland. W.H. Shipman owned this land that was later to become Hawaiian Acres. The original developer of Hawaiian Acres became involved in litigation with AMFAC regarding these walls just after the time of subdivision. AMFAC purchased the land under and around the walls shortly after, but has since sold almost all of them. The unpredictability regarding this flood channel is due to policy failures, as well as other related geological features, and increases the risk for all landowners in the vicinity. There is some concern that the cemented wall will eventually break apart due to tree roots, and lack of maintenance. If this should happen, the problem could become even more serious. At this writing, the county has proposed Emergency Access Road Project planned to take the route of 8-road, through the worst flooding zone. The proposed design is a source of contention among the residents of this area and the users of 8-road.
Along with earthquakes, the most significant geological features affecting Hawaiian Acres future are the same as from which it was created, "lava flows". Hawaiian Acres sits in Lava Hazard Zone-3. Lava Hazard Zones are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with a number 1 rating as the most hazardous. Hawaiian Acres will be affected by lava sometime in the unknown future. Judging by the geological history, the size and areas covered by Mauna Loa, Kilauea and Mauna Kea, it may be unwise to aggressively develop in the eventual paths of lava inundation. Currently, the Hawaii County General Plan and the Puna Community Development Plan does just that.
Whatever plan becomes the model for Hawaiian Acres and the surrounding subdivisions, it should give full consideration to the unstable land. It should also attempt not to repeat what has happened to Royal Gardens (see Subdividing the Lava Fields, chapter 8, in LAND AND POWER IN HAWAII, by George Cooper and Gavan Daws). Should we not heed the lesson learned by Royal Gardens, the damage and losses will surely be severe, costly, and magnified in comparison. The likelihood that our best plans could be changed by geological events will persist throughout our lives and those of many generations.
One natural hazard to Hawaiian Acres is the effect of VOG or volcanic gases. The predominant wind pattern or trade winds usually push these noxious gases away from the Puna subdivisions. The winter weather pattern has a reversed wind direction known as Kona Winds. During these reversals, Hawaiian Acres is sometimes immersed in the resulting VOG for weeks at a time. Visibility can be limited to as little as half a mile. At these times, it is thick enough to taste and irritates one's mucous membranes. The health effects of volcanic emissions are of concern in geothermal energy production. Though these particular emissions are small in comparison, they are monitored and studied closely. There is now a VOG HOTLINE in effect, that gives a daily reading. This has a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most serious. As of this writing, no testing stations are available for Hawaiian Acres.
Helicopter flights are a continuous sight to the residents of Hawaiian Acres. These flights are a side effect of living in close proximity to an active volcano. One positive aspect of the tour helicopters is that they simply pass over, as contrasted by law enforcement's encroachments upon the privacy of the residents in their "search and destroy" marijuana eradication efforts.