County Halts KapohoKine's Use of Old Honoli`i Landing Strip

posted in: June 2011 | 0

Less than a week after the state Board of Land and Natural Resources fined KapohoKine Adventures, LLC, $16,500 for Conservation District violations at Honoli`i, Hawai`i County planning director Bobbi-Jean Leithead-Todd delivered more bad news to the company: The airstrip on the Agriculture portion of landowner Teresa Prekaski’s property, which KapohoKine uses for its helicopter tours, is off limits, for now.

The Planning Department had initially issued the company a notice on January 12 that the airstrip was a grandfathered use of agricultural land, but reversed itself a month later. On February 3, the department directed KapohoKine to prove that the airstrip was a non-conforming use. (A non-conforming use is one that does not conform to current regulations, but existed before their adoption. Any non-conforming use that ceases for more than a year may not be legally resumed.)

Among other things, the county asked for documentation from 1967 to the present of continuous use.

Hilo attorney Thomas Yeh, who represents KapohoKine, responded on March 31 with maps, declarations from people who said they used the airstrip over the past several years, and other materials. 

But a May 18 letter from Leithead-Todd indicates that the Planning Department was most interested in activities pre-1967.

“We just focused on filling the gaps [between 1967 and the present],” Yeh told Environment Hawai`i. After reading the letter, he said, it appeared that the county had shifted its focus.

Leithead-Todd had determined that for the airstrip’s use to be considered non-conforming, it had to have been continuous since June 17, 1963, when the state’s land use law was established, and September 21, 1963, when the county established rules regarding non-conforming uses. 

She pointed out that neither a 1965 aerial photo by the state Division of Forestry nor a 1966 USGS map, which Prekaski’s neighbor Gwen Herrington submitted, showed any airstrip at Honoli`i.

Former Murray Air pilot Al Carter, who began crop-dusting sugarcane in November 1966, also informed the department that the only available airstrips at the time were at Pepe`ekeo and `Alae. He said his first flights to the Honoli`i airstrip were in late 1967 and early 1968.

“In conclusion, I have determined that there is enough evidence to prove that the Honoli`i Airstrip was not established prior to June 17, 1963 or September 21, 1966,” Leithead-Todd wrote. This directly rebutted Yeh’s claim that a C. Brewer map indicates that an airstrip had been there since 1961.

She ordered KapohoKine to cease and desist all helicopter operations and landings on the property within 30 days and not resume them until it 1) prepares an environmental assessment (and possibly an environmental impact statement) for its use, 2) receives a special permit from the county Planning Commission, and 3) obtains a CDUP from the DLNR for activities, use and structures in the Conservation District or provides a letter from DLNR stating that a CDUP is not required.

If her department continues to receive complaints of helicopter landings, she added, “we will treat this as a violation complaint and follow up with an inspection and possible corrective action, which may include daily fines.” The Hawai`i County zoning code allows for fines of up to $500 a day.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Yeh says of the fact that the county raised issues that his clients were not aware of when they were gathering the requested information.

Yeh was asked whether his clients planned to appeal the county’s decision or obtain the necessary permits. His clients were still weighing their options, he replied.

Teresa Dawson

Volume 21, Number 12 — June 2011

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