Who owns new coastal lands created by lava flows?

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Many visitors to the HVO website have asked about the white structures visible in the photos of lava flowing across the coastal plain and into the ocean over the past two months. The biggest mystery is the hexagonal structure closest to the Waikupanaha ocean entry. What is it, and why is it there?

Who owns new coastal lands created by lava flows?...

Lava enters the ocean creating three laze plumes at the Waikupanaha lava delta. Notice the steaming rocks floating in front of the most eastern plume.

(Public domain.)

These buildings are within a subdivision called Pacific Paradise Ocean Front Estates. Located on the makai side of Highway 130, the subdivision was covered by lava several times in the mid-1980s. Hawai`i County set up a viewing area when flows entered the ocean there in 2002, and the structures that you see today were all built since then.

In March 2008, when activity returned to the area, the only full-time residents shared a trailer parked on a cinder pad. So, when Hawai`i County Civil Defense ordered evacuation, they simply moved their trailer.

As for the mysterious hexagonal structure that is just behind the Waikupanaha bench, the owner says it was intended to be a pavilion. Robert C. McKnight, who claims to own several lots in the recently reburied subdivision, surveyed his lots and determined that the location on which he built the pavilion was 180 feet (55 m) behind the old coastline and, presumably, on the property he owned.

The State of Hawai`i saw it differently. An Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL) survey found that the structure was built 200 feet (61 m) makai of the old coastline, as documented on USGS topographic maps. HVO GPS coordinates for the structure agree with those of OCCL. In other words, the hexagonal pavilion was built on landed created by mid-1980 lava flows beyond the 1983 coast line and not on the parcel Mr. McKnight had purchased.

Who owns the new land built by lava flows beyond the former coastline? The answer has changed over time.

Prior to 1846, the answer was simple: all lands in the kingdom, both old and new, belonged to the king. In modern times, the issue wasn't addressed until the late 1960s. The landmark case pertained to Kīlauea's 1955 east rift zone eruption.

One of the flows covered a privately owned parcel near Kehena and created another 7.9 acres (3.2 hectares) of land beyond the earlier coastline. Between 1955 and 1960, the property changed hands twice ending up with Maurice and Molly Zimring. The deed for the property they exchanged described the original pre-1955 parcels and contained no description of the new land. With this documentation, the Zimrings and the State of Hawai`i were both under the impression that the Zimrings owned the original land and the abutting new 1955 land. The Zimrings paid property taxes, planted trees and shrubs, and even had a portion bulldozed, fully believing they owned the 1955 lava extension.

The 1960 Kapoho eruption created more land, and the State apparently had a change of heart. In 1968, the State of Hawai`i issued an order to the Zimrings to vacate the lava-extended land. The Zimrings went to court and won the initial trial, but the decision was overturned by the State Supreme Court under Chief Justice William Richardson.

The decision was simply worded: "Rather than allowing only a few of the many lava victims the windfall of lava extensions, this court believes that equity and sound public policy demand that such land inure to the benefit of all the people of Hawaii, in whose behalf the government acts as trustee. . . . Thus we hold that lava extensions vest when created in the people of Hawaii, held in public trust by the government for the benefit, use and enjoyment of all the people."

The lava extensions, as they are called legally, belong to the State of Hawai`i, and a private citizen can't build a pavilion there. Based on this legal decision, Mr. McKnight was ordered to remove his pavilion and restore the area to its earlier condition. With active lava flows only a few meters (yards) from his structure, Pele appears willing to help him.


Volcano Activity Update

Kīlauea summit and Pu`u `O`o continued to deflate after completing another DI tilt event this past week. Sulfur dioxide emission rates and seismic tremor levels have remained elevated at several times background levels. Earthquakes were located primarily beneath Halema`uma`u Crater and the adjacent areas, the southwest rift zone, and the south flank faults.

Lava from the 2007 Thanksgiving Eve Breakout (TEB) flow, erupting from fissure D of the July 21 eruption, continues to flow through what remains of the Royal Gardens subdivision and across the coastal plain within a well-established lava tube. Few breakouts from the tube have been observed along the flow over the past week. The lava reached the ocean at the Waikupanaha lava delta near Kapa`ahu.

The public should be aware that the lava delta could collapse at any time, potentially generating large explosions in the process. Do not venture onto the lava deltas. Even the intervening beaches are susceptible to large waves that are suddenly generated during delta collapse; these beaches should be avoided. In addition, the steam plumes rising from the ocean entries are highly acidic and laced with glass particles. Check the County of Hawai`i Civil Defense website for information on public access to the coastal plain and ocean entry.

No incandescence was observed at night in Pu`u `O`o in the past week, though minor incandescence has been sporadically present throughout the past few months. As in years past, Pu`u `O`o is likely serving as a large chimney, beneath which lava is briefly stored and substantially degassed on its way to the eruption site.

On March 12, a new fumarole appeared low on the southeast wall of Halema`uma`u Crater, within Kīlauea's summit caldera. The new vent is located directly beneath the Halema`uma`u Overlook about 70 m (230 ft) down. At 2:58 a.m., H.s.t. on March 19, a small explosion occurred from this fumarole. The explosion scattered rock debris over an area of about 75 acres, covering a narrow section of Crater Rim Drive, the entire Halema`uma`u parking area, and the trail leading to the overlook. The overlook was damaged by rocks that reached up to 90 cm (3 ft) across. No lava was erupted as part of the explosion, suggesting that the activity was driven by hydrothermal or gas sources. On April 9, another small explosion occurred, depositing dense blocks and particles of fresh lava on the overlook area. A third small explosion from the vent occurred at 3:57 a.m. on April 16, depositing a thin dusting of pale red ash west of the crater. The vent continues to vigorously vent gas and miniscule amounts of ash. Fresh lava spatter, Pele's tears, and Pele's hair have been collected at the rim (though none recently), indicating that magma resides at shallow depths in the new conduit.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission rates from the summit area have been substantially elevated up to 10 times background values since early January; the emission rates for the past week have been decreasing but are still elevated. The increase in sulfur dioxide emission rates at the summit means that SO2 concentrations are much more likely to be at hazardous levels for visitor areas downwind of Halema`uma`u, especially during weak wind conditions or when winds blow from the south. Most people are sensitive to sulfur dioxide at these levels, especially children, individuals with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other breathing problems. Stay informed about SO2 concentrations in continuously monitored areas (Jaggar Museum and Kīlauea Visitor Center) by visiting the Kīlauea Visitor Center and the web at:
http://www2.nature.nps.gov/air/webcams/parks/havoso2alert/havoalert.cfm. To minimize these potentially harmful effects, Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park has closed all access to the southern half of Kīlauea caldera.

One earthquake beneath Hawai`i Island was reported felt within the past week. A magnitude-2.9 earthquake occurred at 2:54 a.m., and was located 8 km (5 miles) beneath Waimea.

Mauna Loa is not erupting. Three earthquakes were located beneath the summit. Extension between locations spanning the summit, indicating inflation, has resumed following a period of stagnation.

Visit our Web site for daily Kīlauea eruption updates and nearly real-time Hawai`i earthquake information. Kīlauea daily update summaries are also available by phone at (808) 967-8862. skip past bottom navigational bar