‘You’re going to kill my business’

LIHUE — A decades-old issue of commercial boating permits in Hanalei Bay resurfaced at the Kauai Planning Commission on Tuesday only to remain anchored for another three weeks.

The county Parks and Recreation Department applied for a Special Management Area permit with the commission, so it can start granting commercial boating permits.

The county’s application includes a set of proposals that would limit commercial boating in Hanalei to six or fewer days per week — Sundays and holidays would be blackballed — and would add a string of rules to the companies operating there.

Brian Lansing, an owner of Na Pali Catamaran, said if the proposed rules go into effect, he would lose about 15 percent of his business — basically his profit margin — for not being able to operate Sundays.

“What if somebody came to you and said, ‘I’m taking one-seventh of your customers and I’m telling them to go home,’ right now?” he said. “You’re going to kill my business.”

Lansing said he would sue the county and the commission, just like he did years ago in a boating-related lawsuit against the state.

“I was a winner in the federal courts and I’ll win again,” he said.

The administration’s request stalled when commissioners approved two separate petitions to intervene in the application — one from the Limu Coalition and North Shore resident Barbara Robeson and the other from Hanalei River Holdings and North Shore resident Michael Sheehan.

Among other things, Limu Coalition’s petition is asking for an environmental assessment, while Sheehan’s petition is seeking an environmental impact statement.

Deputy County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask, representing the county, said the county Parks and Recreation takes no position on the Limu Coalition petition that he received Monday afternoon.

The department, he said, is working with Robeson and Makaala Kaaumoana of the Limu Coalition to develop the regulations that the county is seeking to implement.

“We do not mind if they are involved in it, that’s why we don’t take a position,” Trask said. “We appreciate the aloha they have.”

He said department wouldn’t take a position on Sheehan’s petition, either.

“We believe that we are seeking here … reasonable regulation as contemplated under the General Plan, North Shore Development Plan and the Peddlers and Concessionaires Ordinance,” Trask said.

The five commercial boating operators who have sought permits are permitted to run, he said.

“These guys have permits,” said Trask, who explained the administration is trying to implement a regulatory scheme to protect public health and safety.

Commissioner Hartwell Blake said he would like to hear the case before sending it to a hearings officer, because it’s an old issue that “keeps coming up again and again.”

“Personally, I’d like to see this gets put to rest before I get put to rest,” said Blake, causing laughter in the audience.

Blake’s motion to steer the application reviewing process to the commission, however, did not gather necessary votes. Chair Wayne Katayama was absent and Vice Chair Jan Kimura and Commissioner Herman Texeira recused themselves — Sheehan is suing Kimura and Texeira over losing permits a couple years ago for his Hanalei River boatyard after more than 20 years of legal battles.

With four commissioners left and four votes needed to approve Blake’s motion, interim Chair Amy Mendonca voted against it.

Kevin Millett, of Holo Holo Charters, said his company has been operating seven days a week out of Hanalei with “absolutely no complaints” for the last two years.

Stephanie Butler, co-owner of Captain Sundown Na Pali Sea Tours, said there is a power struggle in Hanalei between two opposing sides — the environmentalists and the capitalists.

“Like an Oreo cookie, the environment to the right and capitalists to the left, and the boaters are the little, white squishy part in the middle,” she said.

Butler questioned why tour companies are facing additional regulations to simply take visitors on a little dingy from the park out onto the water.

“We really don’t understand the need for 29 new regulations to oversee that, when we have been doing it delicately and with the environment in mind for — my husband personally — 40 years,” she said. “We just want to be allowed to run our businesses as we have been doing for all these years.”

Her husband, Bob Butler, asked the commission to look at the rules seriously and have a little faith in the tour boat companies, which represent the tourism industry in one of Hawaii’s finest destinations.

“I’ve seen a lot of crazy things down at Black Pot Park since I started in ‘71,” he said. “But none of them from the boats. It’s not the boaters who are causing you guys the problems.”

Trask said the boating issue is complex and the county is trying as best as they can to regulate it.

Some of the public health issues, he said, include people drinking, not using life vests, and boats sailing too close to Na Pali Coast.

“We’re looking to close regulatory loopholes,” Trask said.

To the administration, he said, the proposed regulations are reasonable, and “no action” is not a possibility.

The next step would be for the commission to refer the matter to a hearings officer and conduct a contested hearing case behind closed doors. But Sheehan’s attorney, Richard Wilson, asked for the process to be reviewed by the commission in open meetings.

“I think the public has a right to know,” Wilson said.

The issue now goes to a special order of the day on the commission’s next meeting Aug. 13.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@thegardenisland.com

• Chris D’Angelo, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com

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