No one lives on the property except the occasional homeless person who breaks a window to get in and camp inside. Vagrants use the toilet, even without plumbing, leaving behind a stinky mess.

Hara points out that in all those years: “No one said I am sorry we created this problem for you. … These people do not have a heart.”

He hasn’t fished since he lost his home. “You lose something when someone takes away your pride and joy.”

But if state officials took possession of his property rather than restoring the spring to save money, the plan likely backfired.

State records show since 1999, the state Department of Transportation tried multiple times to auction off what the agency now calls the “disposable” Kalanianaole Highway properties. The DOT has been through an extensive preparation process before the planned auctions, including getting estimates of the property value, performing yard maintenance, and interior cleaning.

There also were costs for things like in 2007 when the Department of Land and Natural Resources ordered the DOT to perform an Archeological Inventory Study to check for bones or artifacts.

Throughout this nearly 12-year saga, an estimated 22 government agencies and their divisions and representatives have had at least some involvement with the property.

Those include the DOT Director, DOT Highways Division, DOT Right of Way Division, the Federal Highways Administration, the US Fish and Wildlife agency, NOAA, Board of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and its sub agencies, the State Historic Preservation Division and the Bureau of Conveyances. Other agencies involved include the state attorney general, state Department of Accounting and General Services, the lieutenant governor’s office, the City’s Board of Water Supply, the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and its Regulated Industries Complaints Office and the Contractors License Board. Then there was Office of Hawaiian Affairs, UH-Manoa, UH Center for Hawaiian Studies, UH Facilities Department, and UH General Counsel.

Brennon Morioka, who inherited this situation when he became DOT Director in March 2008, says: “It is not our desire to acquire lands that do not serve a public highway purpose as it does require some level of maintenance. This is the primary reason we would like some resolution soon either to transfer lands with another public agency or to dispose of the property via public auction.”

Hara hopes that soon, the home will be purchased by a caring owner or be taken over by a non-profit that will restore the important Hawaiian fishpond.

“I lived in a paradise and there is no way to replace what I lost. It was a godsend.”

Hara’s home is one of four in that neighborhood that the state still owns and maintains after condemning them during the 1990s highway expansion. State agencies are facing steep budget cuts, public employee unions are fighting layoffs and legislators are debating tax hikes to balance the budget. Especially in challenging economic times like these, divesting the state taxpayers from such properties should be a top priority for the state administration.

Malia Zimmerman

Malia Zimmerman is the president of Hawaii Reporter.