Rapozo changes stance on county grading violations

Kaua‘i County Councilman Mel Rapozo changed his mind yesterday when he asked a council committee to consider keeping the county engineer as the lead investigator in cases where landowners allegedly violate the county’s grubbing and grading and stockpiling ordinance.

Rapozo’s weeks ago proposed a bill revision that called for violations to be sent immediately to county prosecutors for review and possible prosecution.

Rapozo’s first request drew favor with some residents who voiced frustration at government delays in the investigation of unpermitted grading in 2001 and 2002 on land in Kilauea owned by North Shore resident James Pflueger.

In November, 2001, torrential rain created mudslides that covered areas by the homes of Amy Marvin and her family and others by Pila‘a Bay and spilled onto small areas of the reef, killing some coral.

The incident outraged residents and spurred the current effort to strengthen the existing ordinance.

Rapozo said his first bill amendment was intended to authorize the county engineer to make a determination on any violation and, if necessary, send the complaint to county prosecutors for review.

He said his latest amendment was to clarify the language in his first amendment. It now calls for the county engineer to serve violators with notices in person or by mail.

The amendment also said that if a person failed to comply with the order within a specified time, the county engineer “shall” refer the case to county prosecutors.

The bill also noted that a person convicted of violating the provision of the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor and would be sentenced in line with Hawai‘i law.

James Tokioka, council vice chair and chairperson of the council’s planning committee, and councilman Daryl Kaneshiro said the majority of the council, as far as they knew, could not support Rapozo’s first amendment proposal because it was too severe.

Tokioka said he will review Rapozo’s latest proposal and that the committee will take up the proposed bill revision at its Sept. 4 meeting.

Tokioka said he also is waiting for additional information from the county Department of Public Works on the issue, and wants to review current procedures for enforcement of the law.

The council is committed to dealing with violators, but the current law allows for abuses, Rapozo said. County officials are dealing with violation cases that have stretched out over 13 and 20 years, he said.

Joined by a handful of audience members, Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, executive director of the Hanalei Watershed Hui, said her organization supported Rapozo’s amendment to inform “the county prosecutor as early as feasible when permits or projects are noncompliant with our rules or procedures.”

Violations should be forwarded to county prosecutors “in a timely manner to prevent further damage,” she wrote in a news release.

Some audience members called for the confiscation of machinery that is used for illegal work, but Rapozo said doing so would not be that easy.

Rapozo said owners of companies that rent dirt-moving machinery would be denied their due process if they were not made aware their machinery was used illegally and the equipment was confiscated.

Rapozo said the company owners are not to be blamed for unpermitted work done by people they rent their equipment to.

Rapozo also said he was mystified that the Department of Public Works didn’t have a written policy to process notices to violators.

The processing of a notice could take up to 37 days, but there is no guarantee the matter will not stretch out for a longer time, Rapozo said.

Cesar Portugal, head of the DPW Engineering Division, said a procedure for issuing notices is in place, and that his staffers do their work.

But they face challenges, including inspectors having difficulty locating sites where alleged violations have occurred, gaining access to sites, and locating landowners who live on the Mainland.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net.

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