Another piece of Kauai's history is on the chopping block. Grove Farm has issued eviction notices to 13 families living in Koloa Camp — the oldest remaining plantation camp on the southside.
Ironically, Grove Farm wants to demolish the low-rent homes so it can build, mmm, affordable housing. Except the new units would be the China-made modular kine.
The residents, including multi-generational families and seniors who have lived their entire lives in the homes, must be out by March 8. They got notice just two weeks before Thanksgiving, casting a pall over the holiday season.
“The biggest thing that really breaks my heart is a local company like Grove Farm would do that to senior citizens. It's almost shameful,” says Kepa Kruse, a Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning musician who grew up in the camp. His father, John Kruse, who sailed on Hokulea and formerly chaired the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council, still lives there.
“A lot of these people have nowhere to go, so I think they're just gonna stay here,” Kepa says. “It's hard to relocate your lifestyle. This is real local style. People raise chickens and have gardens. We're gonna lose the old style Kauai charm.”
The 24 acres scheduled for redevelopment lie behind Koloa Post Office. The land borders the parcel where monkeypod trees were cut down three years ago, despite intense community opposition, to make way for the Shops at Koloa. The mall stalled when major tenants sued to break lease, leaving the developer, Eric A. Knudsen Trust and David Nelson of Detroit, unable to get financing.
“The developer had big dreams and cut down all the trees and the land is just sitting there, infested with rats,” Kepa says. “We fear the same thing will happen here.”
He says 30 families living in another camp near Waikomo Stream and Hapa Road were previously evicted and their homes destroyed to make way for an affordable housing project that still hasn't broken ground.
“Developers see these old plantation homes and think, that would be a nice development,” Kepa says. “But for local people, that's their childhood, the buildings they grew up in. Even though it's old, it still has value. It's meaningful.”
Residents are wondering why Grove Farm is pushing for the evictions when it apparently hasn't yet submitted plans its plans for the project to the county. Kepa says the land is in a flood zone and borders streams inhabited by the endangered Koloa duck, factors that could delay or prevent development. The community is also concerned about how the proposed 50-unit project would affect traffic on narrow Wailana Street.
“These are valid questions we're bringing up and it's like they're trying to keep it hush-hush,” he says. Residents have been trying to get answers from Grove Farm, to no avail. So they went to the Koloa Community Association for help, and a meeting is now scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Koloa Neighborhood Center to discuss the issue. Grove Farm Vice President Mike Tresler has been invited, although Kepa is uncertain whether Tresler will show. “He doesn't want to meet with us.”
Koloa Early School also has received an eviction notice, and the Koloa Canoe Club would be similarly displaced.
“We as a community feel it's a very reasonable thing for Grove Farm to address these concerns and also delay the evictions until these concerns are addressed,” Kepa says.
In the meantime, residents have been meeting each Sunday afternoon to discuss strategy.
“It's really amazing to see the community coming together to fight this,” Kepa says. “I know with some of the developers their intentions are good, but I wish they would open their heart to the community before they press on the gas pedal. Kauai is pretty special, and if we lose the things that make it that way, you might as well move to Oahu.”
The residents have organized under the name Save Koloa Camp, and you can check out their website here. I hope to attend the Thursday meeting and hear what the developer and some of the other residents have to say.
Meanwhile, I'm wondering whether all those folks who were upset about the monkeypods being cut will be similarly motivated to support the families who are on the verge of losing their lifelong homes.