LIHUE — Hermina Morita, chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, and her husband will not only be fined for illegally building and operating their Hanalei bed and breakfast, but have been ordered to tear down existing structures.
The penalties were handed down Friday by the state Land Board after Department of Land and Natural Resources staff completed an investigation into the allegations.
“(The couple) will have to pay a total of $31,000 in fines and administrative costs within 90 days, plus remove two rental cottages,” DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward wrote in an email.
With its enforcement action, the Board acknowledged that Morita, a former state representative, and her husband, Lance Laney, did in fact run the vacation rental Taro Patch Hale without permission for more than a decade and built the North Shore getaway in a state conservation district without the proper permits.
During its meeting Friday, the Board approved a recommendation from the department’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands to fine the couple $30,000 — $15,000 for each violation — as well as $1,000 in costs. It also ordered the landowners to “completely remove” the two rental cottages — named Lii Cottage and Nui Cottage — and “discontinue all commercial activity” on the property.
Taro Patch Hale is on a 3.18-acre parcel within the State Land Use Conservation District Protective Subzone, at the end of Ohiki Road, on Kauai’s North Shore.
The Garden Island broke the story March 11 about the state’s investigation after obtaining draft documents written by OCCL. In a Dec. 16 letter addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Laney, BLNR Chair William Aila outlined the state’s allegations.
“We have evidence that the following land uses were conducted on the subject parcel without our knowledge or authorization: clearing of vegetation; grubbing, construction of three building structures; construction of one large carport/building; on-going vacation rental of the ‘Li’i Cottage’ and ‘Nui Cottage,’” he wrote.
Aila ordered the couple to immediately cease further land uses and activities, including all current and future vacation rentals.
Following Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the landowners received approval to reconstruct one non-conforming single-family residence. However, recent aerial and site photographs showed several unapproved structures, according to documents.
In addition to the fines and cottage removal, Morita and Laney are required to submit an After-the-Fact Conservation District Use Application to obtain approval for the large garage on the parcel within 90 days.
Violation fines must be paid within 90 days of Friday’s enforcement action, with structures slated for removal within 120.
“A written request for a contested case hearing was also presented to the board by the (couple’s) attorney Harold Bronstein,” Ward wrote following Friday’s Board meeting.
Attempts to contact Morita and Laney Friday were not successful.
Morita was chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee from 1999 until 2011, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed her as PUC chair. She is the first-ever female chair of the PUC.
• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.