Mount Kīlauea on the big island of Hawaii has been spewing lava for over a month now. Thousands of acres have been covered by new molten rock, and it’s flowing out into the sea. When that happens, lava will cool, harden, and can create new land, sometimes hundred of acres at a time. Who owns that new land?
These areas are called “lava extensions,” and were central to a 1977 Hawaii Supreme Court case in which Big Island residents Maurice and Molly Zimring sued the state over 7.9 acres of new land formed by a 1955 Kilauea eruption.
Since the 1955 lava abutted property purchased by the Zimrings, they assumed it belonged to them.
“The deed for the property…described the original pre-1955 parcels and contained no description of the new 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 USGS explained in a 2008 blog post:
After the 1960 Kapoho eruption, the state ordered the Zimrings to vacate the lava extension, and they took the issue to court, winning the initial trial. The decision, however, was eventually overturned by State Supreme Court Chief Justice William Richardson.
The decision means that “new” land created by lava belongs to the state. So if you ever consider purchasing oceanfront property in Hawaii, take into account the odds that someday that property might not have an oceanfront. The concept of land ownership itself is relatively new to Hawaii, as you can read at Motherboard. -via Digg