New Penalty Guidelines for Kealakekua Bay
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources has approved new civil penalty guidelines for “minor” violations at Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawai`i. For years, the state has struggled to control the swarming visitors to the popular bay, where a local population of spinner dolphins and nearby historic and cultural sites have attracted tourists – and tour operators – who haven’t always been mindful of their impacts on the area’s fragile resources.
Constant foot traffic and landing and launching of vessels have already begun to damage cultural sites, as well as the shoreline and reef at Ka`awaloa, a popular snorkeling spot and access point to the bay’s Captain Cook Monument, which is part of Kealakekua State Historical Park.
Last January, the Department of Land and Natural Resources released a Kealakekua Stewardship Area Management Plan, which recommends prohibiting all vessel landings (including kayaks) and posting “no landing without special use permit” signs along the Ka`awaloa shoreline. Because DLNR rules prohibit the unauthorized landing, launching, mooring and anchoring of vessels fronting the shores of state parks where appropriate signs are posted, violators could be fined $2,500 to $10,000.
The plan’s recommendation to allow only those with special use permits to land is a departure from the Land Board’s longstanding policy to protect natural resources first, the public’s interests second and commercial interests last. Perhaps in acknowledgement of this policy, the plan does note, “Non-commercial kayak landings may be permitted at some future time when infrastructure and facilities are in place and in accord with [the Kealakekua Historic] Park Master Plan.” The DLNR is currently still receiving public comment on the master plan.
To date, the DLNR has permitted two companies to provide guided kayak tours to Ka`awaloa, which can also be reached by trail. According to a report to the Land Board by DLNR staff, once the department erects signs at Ka`awaloa and on the bay’s Napo`opo`o Landing (where most kayaks launch), anyone beaching or launching vessels along the Ka`awaloa shoreline or mooring at the wharf adjacent to the Cook Monument without a DLNR permit “will be held in violation of the State Parks boating rule.”
Instead of pursuing those violations as petty misdemeanors in the criminal courts, as has been done in the past, the DLNR plans to use its new Civil Resource Violations System, which the Land Board adopted last year to address minor violations in a more expeditious manner.
Under the new guidelines adopted by the board at its November 19 meeting, violators of the boat landing rule may be fined anywhere from $30 to $200, depending on the number of times they have violated the rule and whether or not they paid their fines within 21 days.
Geoff Hand of Adventures in Paradise, Inc. (one of the permitted kayak tour operators) submitted testimony fully in favor of the board’s sanctions. Favoring increased fines were Karen Hand, owner of Adventures in Paradise, and Betsy Morrigan, owner of the Hawai`i Pack and Paddle (the other permitted company).
Morrigan recommended fines of $100 to $750 for independent kayakers and $1,000 to $3,000 for illegal guided tour companies. “Surely in terms of the DLNR’s rules at this very special state park, this unauthorized landing is an infraction as serious as speeding on the highway. So make it worth the state’s while and change them more [than $30] for disobeying the law,” Morrigan wrote.
With regard to unpermitted tour operators, Morrigan noted that there are three unpermitted companies that have landed at Ka`awaloa for years. Any fine for a violation by a guest on one of these companies’ tours should be paid by the tour operator, not the tourist, she wrote in her testimony to the Land Board.
“For these chronic law-breakers, a $30 mail-in fine is not even a slap on the wrist. It is barely a mosquito bite….This tiny $30 fine will be merely viewed as the cost of doing business. These three tour companies are already charging $150 or more per person for this trip and claiming to their guest that they have permits and are authorized to land.”
Also concerned that illegal operators would find ways around the rule, Morrigan asked the Land Board to better define what a vessel is.
“Is a stand-up paddleboard a vessel? What about a boogie board, a small swimboard or a surfboard? And who knows what they might come up with next? The ‘snorkel torpedoes’ – are they a ‘vessel’? There are many people on various waterboards and devices such as these. Is landing legal or illegal for them? Believe me, if landing is not illegal for paddleboards and suchlike, there will be companies springing up overnight offering stand-up paddleboard tours and rentals to KBSH Park, landing at Ka`awaloa!” she wrote.
Finally, she asked that those of Hawaiian descent or a school or halau paddling a small Hawaiian non-motorized craft for personal, family heritage, spiritual, gathering, or cultural reasons be allowed to land.
The DLNR’s Bin Li, who has been incrementally developing penalty guidelines for the CRVS, told the board it shouldn’t be a problem to establish a permit process for cultural uses. With regard to increasing the fine level, Li said, “we can test the water now and revisit the issue.”
At the November 19 meeting, Maui Land Board member Jerry Edlao asked whether paddleboard tours might be a concern. Martha Yent of the State Parks staff responded that right now, the signs only prohibit “vessels,” which would exclude paddleboards.