The recent controversy over the development of Burns Airstrip as an expanded
heliport has brought to light several other urgent issues that need public
A few days ago I was in the area at the same time as a monk
seal that visits this beach to the west of the Burns airstrip fence three or
four times a year.
There were a number of things out of whack there:
The vehicles driving by about every five minutes are dangerously close to the
endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The seal is well camouflaged and can look like a
rock to the casual observer.
Not noticing the seal, one vehicle parked 12
feet away with doors open and the radio blaring until the driver was politely
reminded that the legal safety distance from a monk seal is 50 feet. (After an
hour of interruptions like this to its rest, the seal swam out to sea
2. The road is right on the beach.
3. The reason the traffic is
right on the beach is that the airstrip fence is right on the beach and
considerably makai of the surf debris line. The fence, in other words, does not
fit the Coastal Zone Management rules.
For drivers to be able to comply
with the 50-foot safety radius around this favored monk seal habitat, and not
drive on the beach, the fence would have to be moved back at least 60
4. The fence is right next to the favorite keiki swimming area that
has become increasingly popular in recent years. Often there are as many ocean
goers here as in crowded Salt Pond Park, a quarter of a mile away.
relationship between a favored beach and the airstrip undoubtedly violates all
kinds of rules, because the prevailing in-flight path for small aircraft is
immediately overhead of the keiki swimming area. Small planes come in only 20
or 30 feet above the beach. A faulty landing could be disastrous, including for
beachgoers. Public first. Beaches are public.
5. This relatively recent
fence was put up when the airstrip was extended all the way to the ocean, and
built over existing Hawaiian saltmaking flats. Vehicles now must circumvent the
fence by driving over the muddy salt flats. This is disrespectful of the
salt-makers and the drivers.
But there are several other reasons the fence
should be moved back as far as the parking lot next to the saltmaking area
(about 200 feet). It would allow Salt Pond Park a much-needed expansion along
the coast without interfering with the saltmaking. Drivers could access Puolo
Point without getting into the muddy salt flats or the Hawaiian heritage area.
And last but not least, moving the fence would resolve an error that the
Department of Transportation has on its maps, which now shows that the fence is
150 feet inland.
This entire issue again points out the urgency of
establishing local decision-making bodies in each ahupua’a. Local residents are
the most familiar with local issues and are most likely to make reasonable,
It was clear at the recent Planning Commission public
hearing that a number of commissioners didn’t have a clue about the Burns
issues (and should have disqualified themselves from the vote).
It is also
noteworthy that the commissioners who were the most akamai about the Burns area
(one who lives and works in the area and one who has been involved in
saltmaking) voted in favor of giving Wilma Holi, who is a saltmaker, standing
in the contested case intervention.
There are wonderful people in
Hanapepe/’Ele’ele, including many potential leaders, who could take initiative
in calling local town meetings on important issues such as Burns. The
alternative is ongoing top-down decisions that often have no relevance to the
people who live here. Please help make it happen.