Ka‘ū residents to rally in Hilo against permit approval of proposed Punalu‘u development

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The Ka‘ū District on the Big Island is considered the last of the state’s pristine Hawaiian frontier with its sprawling lava fields, ‘ōhi‘a forests and 80 miles of undeveloped coastline.

Guy Enriques, born and raised in Punalu‘u, said people who choose to live in Ka‘ū want the country lifestyle without the noise and the lights of some of the Big Island’s larger communities.

However, he and many others believe the landscape of their district is at risk of being lost with a proposed residential and commercial development consisting of approximately 225 residential and short-stay units, a village and wellness center, rehabilitation of an existing golf course and tennis facilities as well as extensive infrastructure.

The developer, Black Sand Beach LLC, is requesting a Special Management Area permit during the Hawai‘i County Windward Planning Commission meeting this morning for the project, named Punalu‘u Village. If approved, the project will move forward with its architectural and engineering design phase.

After rallying against the development at Punalu‘u Beach Park on Saturday, residents of the Ka‘ū community caravaned to Hilo this morning — starting in Punalu‘u and making stops in Pāhala, Volcano and Mountain View — to protest once again, against the project at the Kamehameha Statue.

Ka‘ū residents rallied at Punalu‘u Beach Park on March 2, 2024, against the proposed construction of Punalu‘u Village. (Photo credit: Christine Inserra)

“Having this vast land that literally is untouched is what we have to save,” Enriques said.


The project site, once known and operated as Sea Mountain at Punalu‘u was host to a now-closed 18-hole golf course and its clubhouse facilities, a tennis center, the former Punalu‘u Restaurant and related support facilities and infrastructure, according to the background report filed to the commission.

The former infrastructure was severely damaged or destroyed during a 1975 tsunami.

The proposed build would develop 147 acres within the larger 434-acre project site, located off Highway 11, makai of the Ninole Loop Road, and adjacent to the Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach, home to where green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles come to shore and nest.

The developer would also dedicate 30 acres along the project sites’ coastline as a conservation/preservation area.

The total anticipated cost of the project could range between $200-$350 million.


President and chief executive officer of the development, Eva Liu, purchased the land in mid-2000 and has spent months living part-time on the project site at the Colony I condominium complex.

According to the developer’s report filed with the commission, Liu has been acquainting herself with members of various local community organizations, businesses and individuals to better understand the importance of the lands and the hopes and needs of various communities within the Ka‘ū District, and the concerns of people who have kuleana [responsibility] within the immediate area.

While written testimony submitted to the commission is overwhelmingly in opposition to the development, there are a few who are in favor of Liu’s efforts.

Nora Kawachi, a Ka‘ū resident since 2005, said Liu has donated to local organizations for community projects. At Punalu‘u Beach a clean-up project has cleared the old restaurant parking lot making parking accessible, thereby relieving congestion and illegal parking at the beach.

Kawachi said Liu has cleaned up derelict buildings left abandoned by the Sea Mountain resort, including the old clubhouse. Repairs to the old Aspen Center have also been undertaken.


“I believe that Ms. Lui [Liu] and Black Sand Beach, LLC recognize the value to us all of implementing this project with care and respect for the unique and fragile nature of Punalu‘u,” Kawachi said.

Elsa Dedman, 70, of Punalu‘u, has lived in Ka‘ū since 1954. She first learned about the proposed development in 2022 and didn’t think it would go anywhere. She initially believed the new landowner was going to clean up the derelict buildings and upgrade the wastewater system for Colony I condos.

“I’m perplexed as to why the county has approved this,” Dedman said.

Architectural and engineering design would take place approximately two years after the permit approval. The design phase would be completed three years after securing construction-related permits for the project

Complete construction of the project would take approximately five years from the issuance of building permits.

Enriques said the county shouldn’t allow the developer to build anything till they fix the current infrastructure. He is also calling for an updated environmental impact report of the area.

“People are furious,” Enriques said. “The planning director approved the Special Management Area permit without finding out how we feel about it.”

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