But Puna and Kau became a playground for the wannabe-rich. Those three districts, located on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, lacked the Gold Coast’s white sand beaches and relentlessly sunny weather. And those pesky eruptions kept making new land — but it was lava and volcanic ash, too hard and raw to be paradise.
Mainland investors and mainland buyers didn’t necessarily know that, however. The developments that grew up there are still sometimes known, locally, as “land scam subdivisions.”
Pam Frierson, in The Burning Island, compares those developments to similar ones that were sprouting up elsewhere in America’s sunbelt, from Florida to the Southwest: “Large scale speculative subdivisions were being carved out of marginal lands — desert, tidal flats, lava lands — and sold as cheap ‘retirement’ or ‘investment’ properties.”
Most of these subdivisions were “substandard,” having a grid of private roads that didn’t meet county building codes — perhaps paved, perhaps not — and lacking basic services such as running water and sewer lines.
Many eventually joined the island’s power grid, but most still rely on rainwater catchment tanks, and on cesspools or septic tanks to dispose of waste. They also lacked visible means of financial support. Most were located far from jobs. Though usually zoned agricultural, they were carved into parcels too small for conventional farms, even if they actually had tillable soil.