Just over a decade ago, Tad Hara, 84, lived in his dream home, which was a simple two-story wooden house built over a vibrant ancient Hawaiian fishpond, just steps from the stunning beach in East Oahu’s Niu community.

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The home was special in that its living room floor was glass, so from inside, or from his outside porch, he could watch his exotic Koi swirling and swimming with wild mullet, prawns, crabs and other sea and fresh water creatures.

Hara had a state champion Koi, which two years in a row, was deemed the most prized in Hawaii and was valued at $1,500. He had another 150 Koi in his pond. At night, he could turn on a rainbow of lights, and through the glass floor, watch the fish come and greet him.

For 23 years, Hara and his son and two daughters had many happy memories in that magical place. They enjoyed fishing for their dinner at the beach and caring for the flourishing fishpond. To protect the spring and pond, he registered it with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

But their happiness would not last. In the 1990s when the state Department of Transportation widened Kalanianaole Highway from 4 lanes to 6, the DOT condemned 50 square feet of his property.

That wasn’t a problem, but what alarmed Hara is DOT contractors damaging the fresh water spring that ran via his property from the mountain to the ocean. He warned the project manager several times to be careful but the workers ignored him, laying cement conduits and electrical and cable wires on top of the treasured waterway. His neighbor called him at work one day to tell him that his pond was dry and the fish dead.

Hara fought the state for four years to get the spring restored. In a fierce legal battle, the state refused to meet his requests at every turn; being drained financially, he surrendered his property.

His property value was hit drastically by the loss of the spring and pond. Hara, who was in real estate at the time, says his appraiser valued the home at nearly $1 million, but the DOT gave him about $550,000. After taxes, and $35,000 in lawyer’s fees, the state relocated him to a home that Hara purchased in Aiea Heights. He still lives there today, even though he doesn’t like it. “It’s too cold in Aiea and it’s not the beach,” Hara says.

That was 1998, and nearly a dozen years later, not much has changed, except his former home is giving way to termites and mold.

Malia Zimmerman

Malia Zimmerman is the president of Hawaii Reporter.