Enforcement Sting Nets First Violator
Under New Permit System at Kealakekua
The Department of Land and Natural Resources wanted to send a message: It is done messing around when it comes to prosecuting illegal kayak vendors at Kealakekua Bay State Historic Park.
On January 10, the DLNR’s Division of State Parks recommended that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources impose the maximum fine of $2,500 plus $735 in administrative costs in the case of Alex Aquino, an unpermitted vendor caught in a sting by enforcement officers late last year. Aquino runs Big Island Canoes, according to a State Parks report to the Land Board.
Aquino, who reportedly had a bench warrant out for his arrest on a separate matter, didn’t attend the Land Board’s meeting. Even so, the board unanimously approved the fines.
For more than 20 years, the DLNR has struggled to control illegal kayak operators at the park. One director after another failed, while damage to historic sites and harassment of dolphins in the bay grew, as did illicit drug dealing in the area.
With many residents clamoring for the state to shut the area down, DLNR director William Aila did just that in January 2013 when he prohibited all vessels – including stand-up paddle boards – from accessing the bay. The few kayak tour operators with commercial use permits were initially allowed back a few months later. Then after State Parks put a permitting system in place for all users of the park, both commercial and non-commercial, Aila reopened it to the public.
Now, anyone wishing to transit the bay’s waters using a vessel must have a permit.
“Up until this point, these guys [illegal vendors] were phantoms. Now they have received permits [to transit the bay]. We know who they all are,” assistant State Parks administrator Curt Cottrell told the Land Board on January 10.
Of the more than 400 permits issued covering more than 600 vessels in the bay, Cottrell says only seven of them are causing problems.
One of them, Aquino, was caught renting kayaks to an undercover DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officer on November 21.
State Parks chose, for the first time, to bring a violation case for civil penalties to the Land Board rather than to Circuit Court. Courts, said Cottrell, have consistently either tossed out violation cases brought by the agency, or imposed nominal fines of $50 to $100.
Such fines are not a deterrent, he argued.
“There’s so much money that is available to illicit vendors,” he told the board. Aquino was charging $60/day for double kayaks, $80/day for triple kayaks, plus $10 per person for snorkeling gear, according to the staff report.
Hawai`i island Land Board member Robert Pacheco asked whether the county or state is going after these vendors for taxes, given the amount of money that’s being made.
He added that he supported imposing the maximum fine of $2,500.
“Anything less would be the cost of doing business.” he said. “For me, this isn’t someone who doesn’t know. … These guys have been manipulating and skirtin’ around … It’s a really chronic problem.”
A question arose whether the agenda item title, which was to request “the issuance of administrative and civil penalties of $2,500,” capped the total fine to $2,500 or allowed the board to impose additional administrative costs.
At-large board member Sam Gon noted that the recommended fines are merely that – recommendations – and that the Land Board can make its own decisions on the final amount.
“I’m willing to go for it and somebody can fight it if they want to. I don’t think we’re gonna get the money anyway,” Pacheco said.
In the end, the board unanimously approved a motion to find that Aquino had violated DLNR rules and authorize a $2,500 fine plus $735 in administrative costs.
State law allows the Land Board to impose fines of up to $5,000 for second offenses that occur within five years of a first offense, and up to $10,000 for third and subsequent violations.
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USDA Studies Forest Recovery After
‘Cataclysmic Man-Made Disturbance’
Over the next two years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry will be killing albizia trees on 900 acres of state land in Puna that were deforested 30 years ago by then-landowner Campbell Estate for pasture purposes and geothermal and biomass energy production.
On January 10, the Land Board granted the agency a right-of-entry to document the area’s recovery and to apply herbicide to invasive albizia there. The institute will also document any effects albizia removal has on forest regeneration.
The work will “produce a better understanding of natural native forest recovery and succession,” a DLNR Land Division report to the board states. It also is in line with legislation passed by the 2013 Legislature calling for interagency cooperation on the control of albizia, starting on Hawai`i island.
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Maui Kayak Company
Gets ‘Clean Slate’
The lawyers have worked it out and the contested case hearings initiated last year by Island Adventure Tours, LLC (dba Keli`i’s Kayak Tours) and KRS Investments, LLC (dba South Pacific Kayaks & Outfitters and Tiki Team Adventures) have been withdrawn. In exchange, the violation the Land Board found against Island Adventure Tours for conducting unpermitted commercial activities at Maui’s Olowalu Beach has been rescinded. No fines were ever imposed in that case.
The violation against KRS and the associated $1,420 in fines and administrative costs stand.
Before the contested case hearings began, the Department of the Attorney General and Thomas Cole, representing both companies, reached an agreement.
“The basis for recommending rescinding the violation … is that the violation occurred in 2008. In effect, this would provide Keli`i’s Kayak Tours with a ‘clean slate,’ and if and when the board finds another violation, it would be considered a first offense,” a Land Division report to the Land Board states.
On January 10, the board approved the deal.