LIHUE — Two commercial boaters in Hanalei were cited by environmental regulators Wednesday for operating Napali Coast tours in unpermitted vessels.
Joe Licona, manager of Bali Hai Tours, and another boat tour operator were served cease and desist letters — but not fined — by members of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement.
He said the operators met his boat at the dock at the tail end of one of his tours and recorded the names and contact information of the six passengers he had onboard.
“My tourists gave as little information as possible, got out of the boat, went to their cars and left without ever paying their bill for their tour,” said Licona, who said he would have charged them a rate of $130-a-head. “So basically I’m out of business because now the vendors who book the tours for 30 percent won’t book me anymore because they went to the tour desk and complained about their tour.”
Licona called the enforcement action “hugely” unfair, and said he plans to fight it in court. He said he does not have the permit he needs to lawfully operate because the agency won’t give him one — even though he applied and meets all qualifications.
“We filled out all the forms, we sent them to Oahu, we still don’t have a permit,” said Licona, who has been captaining tours out of Hanalei for five years.
But other commercial boaters praised the enforcement of the permitting rules.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Brian Lansing, co-owner of Napali Catamaran, which has a permit. “It’s an end to pirates in Hanalei.”
At issue are new rules requiring all ocean recreation businesses to obtain a permit to operate in state small boat harbors, facilities and nearshore waters. Before the rules were enacted in September, commercial permits were only issued for use of state harbors. There were no permit requirements for commercial operators conducting business from private marinas or from shore.
Licona said he launches and retrieves from a commercial private property.
DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward confirmed the enforcement action that took place Wednesday, but declined to discuss it further while the investigation is ongoing.
Francis “Bully” Mission, head of DLNR’s DOCARE on Kauai, also said enforcement is taking place but couldn’t elaborate.
“We do enforcement out in Hanalei and we have been out there this week but our investigation is ongoing, so I can’t stay anything about it,” he said.
Permit fees are $200 per month or 3 percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater. Businesses operating out of a private or county facility must pay the minimum requirement of $200 each month.
Companies operating without a permit can be cited, fined and potentially have their equipment confiscated.
“I’m very glad they’re finally enforcing it,” said Kevin Millet, who operates Holo Holo Charters, which he said has two permits. “The community got together and agreed to the proposed rules that there would be five permits altogether. We pay a percentage to the state and we’re required to have things like legal parking and vessel inspections and we’re going against guys who … aren’t paying a percentage.”