East Hawaii News

‘Albizia Bill’ Up For Final Vote Wednesday

September 16, 2013, 6:33 PM HST
* Updated October 17, 4:55 PM
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***This article has been corrected to note that Hawaii County Code currently allows for the county to clear only unoccupied lots. The original article incorrectly stated that the law allows clearing of occupied property.***

The County Council this week will consider a final vote on a bill dubbed the “Albizia Bill.”

Hawaii County already has an ordinance that allows for a majority of neighbors to complain if they believe an unoccupied lot contains refuse or undergrowth on the property that presents an unsafe situation for fire or health reasons.

The law then allows the mayor to determine whether an unsafe condition exists.

If the owner fails to take action within 30 days of being notified of an unsafe situation, the county can have the lot cleared at the owner’s expense. That could include the filing of a lien on the land to ensure the owner’s payment.

Bill 64 would expand the reach of the bill to occupied lots and its definition of threats to include “unsafe flora.”

And while that encompasses non-native trees, bushes, vines and grass, the primary aim of the bill is the towering albizia tree.

Falcataria moluccana, which is native to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, has been taking over wide swaths of the windward side of the Big Island.

That is especially true in Puna, part of which is represented by Councilman Zendo Kern, the bill’s sponsor.

The measure defines “unsafe flora” as vegetation that poses an imminent danger to persons or adjacent property and structures.

Albizia trees are relatively brittle, with broken branches and split trunks often resulting from strong winds.

Critics of the bill say that it can be costly to remove a tree more than 100 feet in height, an expense that could be particularly shocking to an absentee landowner.

The state Legislature this year passed a measure to develop a statewide plan for the control of albizia. The effort will start on the Big Island with a pilot project removing trees in one area of Puna threatening homes and a native forest.

The fast-growing albizia also are known for crowding out native trees.

The bill passed the first of two required readings on Sept. 5.

Since then Kern has amended the bill to exclude persons who build next to trees “used for wind block, boundary markers or ornamentals” from filing a complaint under the law.

Another new section appears to be aimed at repeat complainers, saying that three “unsubstantiated” complaints is the limit.

Kern could not be reached for comment on the amendments.

The council meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Hilo.

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