Mayor defends Hanalei boatyard decision

Hanalei River Boatyard will remain closed to motorized tour boat operators, Mayor Bryan Baptiste told the Kaua‘i County Council yesterday.

“It is our intent to stick strongly and firmly on that point,” he said.

The mayor presented his rationale for the decision three days before the scheduled resumption of activities at the boatyard.

That edict followed a series of meetings between county, state and federal officials to determine who had authority to regulate operations at the boatyard.

The debate centered on a maze of permits and letters and lawsuits, some dating back almost 20 years. When the dust cleared, the county held the only permit process deemed appropriate to regulate the boatyard.

The special management area, or SMA, permit regulates commercial activity in areas along the coast. Michael Sheehan, owner of the boatyard, had an SMA permit from 1987. The permit allows boat storage and other commercial uses. However, it doesn’t allow launches.

But it isn’t a simple open and shut case, Sheehan told the council.

“I’m caught in the middle,” he said. “I’ve got to keep paying the county property taxes, maintenance, liability insurance.”

Former Mayor Tony Kunimura and Avery Youn, former director of the Kaua‘i Planning Department, have both signed sworn affidavits stating that they requested the development of the boatyard to help accommodate the growing tour boat business in Hanalei.

But when Gov. Ben Cayetano forced most of the companies out of the bay in 1998, it left Sheehan paying taxes on an empty boatyard.

Sheehan said he wants the state and county to develop a plan to allow regulated tour boat traffic at the boatyard — or to purchase the boatyard and a $250,000 refueling area from him.

“We are going to have to do some work on this thing,” he said.

The council decided to write a letter to the Attorney General requesting clarification.

“These legal questions are not going to be one pitch, one strike and you have all the answers,” Kaipo Asing, council chair, said. “Don’t expect this to be a quick fix.”

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