Paul Noble offered every argument he could to justify his kayak tour company’s use of state’s Olowalu Beach Reserve on Maui: Some nameless Department of Land and Natural Resources employee on O`ahu told him years ago it was okay; his company is just transiting the beach, not conducting commercial operations on it; no one is flocking to Olowalu beach anyway – it’s dirt filled and overrun with thorny kiawe; a guided tour is safer than letting tourists rent kayaks on their own; people will lose jobs if he has to operate differently …
Even so, on September 27, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources found that Noble’s Maui Kayaks, Inc., had been illegally using Olowalu beach to conduct business. The board imposed a $1,000 fine and required the company also to pay $580 in administrative costs.
Since 2008, the DLNR’s Land Division has issued Maui Kayaks several oral and written warnings to stop staging kayaks and holding safety briefings on Olowalu and Makena beaches. In 2010, Noble and some of his staff even took Maui County’s educational course (in which the DLNR participates) on rules and regulations governing commercial uses on public lands.
Still, Noble continued to conduct his business as usual.
“We feel after years of this, it’s time to take action,” said DLNR land agent Ian Hirokawa at the Land Board meeting.
Noble, however, tried to explain that he isn’t doing anything illegal.
“We traverse the area. The question is how quickly,” he told the board. He said his staff greets customers on the beach, where they receive a short safety briefing before entering the water. He added that he has considered doing the safety briefing somewhere offsite, but it would be impractical.
“We don’t make any money on land. … Our whole business is operating on the water,” he said.
Not only was the proposed fine unfair, so were all of the complaints against his company, because his was only one of six companies operating at Olowalu, he said.
Noble pleaded with the board to establish a permitting process that would allow him to use the beach.
“We have never been told we cannot be at this area. We have been told we don’t traverse in a timely fashion,” Noble said finally.
Maui land agent and former DLNR enforcement officer Larry Pacheco disagreed with Noble’s claim that his operation is not land-based.
“If you’re setting up kayaks and doing briefings, you’re taking up state land for your operation,” Pacheco said.
He also pointed out that Noble has a permit to operate from a county park.
“You cannot move your operation down the road two miles and take up public space,” Pacheco said.
The tours, which start at 7 a.m., have been disturbing neighboring landowners, he added.
“Every time people lock their cars, their horns are beeping,” he said.
Although the DLNR is capable of issuing permits for commercial uses, Pacheco said his division thinks Olowalu beach is too narrow and too close to the highway to be a suitable site for tours.
Maui Land Board member Jimmy Gomes asked whether it was possible to levy a larger fine to address all of the times the DLNR’s warnings have been ignored.
Deputy attorney general Linda Chow said, “That would be a very difficult thing to do.”
Upon a motion from Gomes, the Land Board unanimously voted to approve the Land Division’s recommendation to fine Maui Kayaks. Noble then requested a contested case hearing, but did not follow up in ten days with a written petition, as is required by law.
Earlier this year, the Land Board found two other Maui kayak tour companies operating out of Olowalu had illegally conducted commercial operations on state land. In those cases, however, the fines were reduced or eliminated because so much time had lapsed between the initial violation and the enforcement action. Even so, those companies are contesting the board’s findings.
Land Division administrator Russell Tsuji says the recent enforcement cases have caused the other companies that had been operating at Olowalu to go elsewhere.
Board Approves Plan
For Pu`u Maka`ala NAR
Several hundred Hawai`i island hunters and their supporters last year signed a petition against the DLNR’s proposed management plan for the 18,700-acre Pu`u Maka`ala Natural Area Reserve. But on September 27, with support from scientists, natural resource managers, and conservation groups, the Land Board chose to support its staff’s recommendation to approve the plan, which will guide management actions over the next 15 years.
Under the plan, captive-raised endangered `alala (Hawaiian crow) may be released, some 5,000 acres will be fenced, and feral pigs will be eradicated. Also, the DLNR will take steps to add 342 acres of former pasture land to the NAR. When the nearby Kulani Prison is reopened, NARS staff plans to resume its practice of recruiting prisoners to carry out some of the plan’s management actions, DOFAW’s Lisa Hadway told the Board.
Eradicating feral pigs is the plan’s main goal. The DLNR”s Division of Forestry and Wildlife plans to install 17 miles of new fencing in the NAR at an estimated cost of $1.7 million. The plan states that once the fencing is complete and pigs are removed from the enclosed area, “approximately 14,600 acres or 78 percent of Pu`u Maka`ala will be ungulate free.”
The plan also calls for $300,000 for weed control in the newly fenced areas. Total cost of the plan over 15 years is $3.9 million.
While individual public comments on the plan largely supported the proposed actions, DOFAW also received strong opposition from the hunting community, which argued that the proposed new fenced area includes some of the best hunting ground on the island.
DOFAW’s September 27 report to the Land Board points out that the new fencing will affect only two percent of the island’s hunting areas.
And at the Land Board’s meeting, Conservation Council for Hawai`i executive director Marjorie Ziegler pushed for more. Although she said she was grateful for the additional protections the plan proposed, “not enough is being done for NARs,” she said.
Ziegler noted that DOFAW’s game management policies are not consistent with the goals of the NAR System. Specifically, she called out DOFAW’s bag limits for game mammals in NARs on Kaua`i.
NARs are supposed to include areas that represent the best or most unique natural habitats in the state. But on Kaua`i, because of resistance from hunters, bag limits still apply to game mammals caught inside NARs on that island.
“If the reserve is going to be used for continental barnyard animals … don’t make it a NAR,” she argued. She then urged DOFAW to improve its game management program.
“We’re there if you want to designate sustained-yield hunting in appropriate areas. We’ll back you up,” she said.
Regarding the DLNR’s larger plan to double the amount of protected watershed areas statewide over the next decade, Ziegler pointed out that even if that goal is met, those areas still will make up just 20 percent of the state’s forests.
“What happens to the 80 percent that’s not managed? … What are we going to do, cut back on 80 percent of our water uses?” she asked.
Kaua`i Land Board member Shawn Smith thanked Ziegler for her comments and said he wanted to explore getting rid of NAR bag limits on his island.
Oceanic Institute Merger With HPU
May Force Changes at Sea Life Park
The days of marine mammal shows, dolphin rides, and parties at Sea Life Park may be numbered.
The popular East O`ahu theme park is likely going to have to become more of a learning center now that its landlord, Oceanic Institute, is being subsumed into Hawai`i Pacific University.
That’s the word from HPU president Dr. Geoffrey Bannister, who, with OI acting president Shaun Moss, last month asked for and received the Land Board’s permission to approve the merger of the two entities, the mutual cancellation of OI’s lease of 105 acres of state land in Waimanalo, and the direct issuance of a new 65-year lease to HPU for scientific research and “public exhibiting facilities of marine life.”
OI’s lease, acquired via public auction, was set to expire in 2027 and could not be renewed, according to Land Division administrator Russell Tsuji. That posed a problem for HPU, which has employed OI for the last decade as a research arm and contributed $10 million to its work. The upcoming lease expiration “creates certain limitations on HPU in securing future grants and donations,” stated a Land Division report to the Land Board.
“Some grants we can’t assume unless we have an extended lease,” Bannister told the board.
Because HPU is a non-profit, the Land Board can issue a lease directly, rather than through a public auction. Although non-profits may also pay a discounted rent, HPU will pay market rent, Tsuji told the board.
Bannister said that HPU and OI are nearing the end of a 10-year agreement, and the university wants that relationship to continue.
“The way we see it, we’ve been living together for 10 years. We’d like to get married,” he said. The merger, which is expected to be completed some time next year, will allow the two organizations to focus on science rather than on “a lot of back room things.”
Bannister said he supported the Land Divisions recommendations regarding the merger and new lease, including conditions requiring HPU to honor OI’s subleases until they expire or are renegotiated.
At-large board member San Gon asked Bannister, “What do you plan to do with the adopted children?” referring to sublessees Sea Life Park and Gloria Bridal Services, Inc.
Both entities have 15 years left on their subleases. Once they expire, “it would be in Sea Life Park’s interest to link to education more than they have in the past. [It] probably should be as educational as it can be,” Bannister replied. He did not speak to the future tenancy of Gloria Bridal Services, Inc., which operates the St. Catalina wedding chapel overlooking Manana island (a.k.a. Rabbit Island).
Oceanic Institute to Build
Pilot Feed Mill Facility
More than a decade after receiving an appropriation of nearly $1 million from the state Legislature to build an experimental feed mill in Panaewa, Hawai`i, just outside of Hilo, the Oceanic Institute has yet to begin construction. On September 27, the Land Board granted OI its fifth time extension to complete the work.
In an August letter to the DLNR, OI acting president Shaun Moss blamed the delay on “behind the scenes hurdles.”
The mill is now going to cost about $3.3 million, $1 million more than initially thought, he continued. But with additional funds from the state Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and private donations, the company says it’s prepared to proceed.
“OI is also in ongoing discussions with Ulupono Initiative to improve production efficiencies of the feed mill. Ulupono’s interest in the feed mill stems from their broader interests in island sustainability and their desire to help develop local solutions to reduce the high cost of terrestrial and aquatic feed,” Moss wrote. “OI’s feed mill will provide a platform to test novel feed formulations on a commercial scale and this is of significant value to Ulupono. Currently, OI and Ulupono are exploring funding opportunities to support enhanced capabilities of the feed mill.”
Moss told the Land Board that his company is preparing an environmental assessment for the mill right now and that he anticipates breaking ground next fall. The mill is expected to produce feed for pigs, chicken, cattle, and aquaculture, he said.
Maui board member Jimmy Gomes, who also manages Ulupalakua Ranch on Maui, asked whether the feed would be available to ranchers statewide.
Moss said the mill is meant to be an intermediate step between the lab and the ultimate goal of a commercial feed mill. OI will use the mill to test feed made from local ingredients and see if those ingredients allow species to thrive.
Church, Orchard Receive
Forest Stewardship Funds
A Hindu church seeking to grow koa, mahogany, and a small amount of sandalwood on about 80 acres of former Lihu`e Plantation cane land will receive roughly $128,000 in state forest stewardship program funds once it wins approval of a 35-year lease from the state Agribusiness Development Corporation.
On October 11, the Land Board approved a recommendation from DOFAW to release the funds if and when the ADC board approves a long-term lease to the Saiva Siddhanta Church, which has farmed the 312-acre Kalepa property for years under short-term permits.
The church will provide matching funds over the 10-year period covered under the grant and has promised to maintain the reforested areas for an additional 20 years. About $125,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program support the church’s project as well.
Under the terms of the Land Board’s approval, the church will be required to give the DLNR a percentage of commercial harvest income until half of the initial grant amount is repaid.
At the same meeting, the Land Board approved $72,000 in forest stewardship funds for Kauapea Orchards, LLC on Hawai`i island. The company, which will provide matching funds, plans to restore a native forest buffer along streams and plant hardwoods on former sugarcane and pasture land in Hamakua.
About 18 acres will be dedicated to species such as tropical cedar, Mexican cypress, blue marble, rainbow eucalyptus, tallowwood, `ohi`a, rosewood, pheasantwood, mahogany, trumpet tree, and teak. Like the church, Kauapea Orchards will also be required to give the DLNR a percentage of its commercial harvest revenue until $27,640 is repaid.