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
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.
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.
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.
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
Whatever plan becomes the model for Hawaiian Acres and the
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
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
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
Helicopter flights are a continuous sight to the
residents of Hawaiian Acres. These flights are a side effect of living
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.
account of Hawaiian Acres would be complete without mention of the
illicit marijuana business. Hawaiian Acres, like the rest of Puna, has
been known to produce the legendary Puna Buds, one of the most potent
strains of Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica ever cultivated for
recreational drug use. Despite its illegality, it is undisputable that
the economic benefits to Hawaiian Acres, Puna, Hawaii County, and the
state have been profound. At its peak, this trade has been estimated to
approach a yearly production value of nearly 1 billion dollars
statewide. Even though this industry continues to this day, it has been
considerably reduced by law enforcement, thus making it a fraction of
what is was in the 1980's. This industry will most likely flourish as
long as it's illegal, simply because of the laws of supply and demand
of its underground economy. Direct economic benefits include jobs for
law enforcement, and related support groups ranging from prosecutors
and judges to penal facilities and employees as well as the growers
themselves with the money they spend on cars, land, building supplies,
food, fertilizers, and their families. The county, state, and federal
governments benefit also from the increased revenues through sales tax,
land tax, fuel tax, and income taxes generated as this illegal money
filters into legal commerce. The future of this industry does have one
uncertainty-legalization. Legalization would break the back of the
industry completely. But this prospect would be unlikely because of the
magnitude of its current economic benefits. Also, dialogue has begun
regarding the merits of industrial hemp, a non-drug strain of cannabis.
This fiber producing plant is used elsewhere in the world for paper,
clothing, essential oils, and other uses. Should industrial hemp
studies prove to be a feasible, viable and a prudent agricultural
venture, and if changes to the current laws allow, it could likely be a
future crop for Hawaiian Acres, considering our ideal climate.