HANAPEPE — The county Planning Commission will hold a hearing June 25 that will begin the process of whether or not to grant Smoky Mountain Helicopters Inc. a class IV zoning permit, which would allow them the ability to make modifications to an existing helicopter tour facility at Port Allen Airport.
The request comes from the company that operates Maverick Helicopters. The company has a facility at the Port Allen Airport, near salt pans where families continue to harvest pa‘akai (salt) in the Hawaiian traditional way.
The hearing on the zoning request relates to adding to Maverick’s existing facility, including bathrooms, storage and “associated improvements.”
A petition with 15,160 signatures is being circulated to present to the commission opposing the possible expansion.
“Maverick Helicopters, Smoky Mountain, is going before County of Kauai Planning Commission to apply for after-the-fact permits and permits that would expand operations. They are one of the biggest helicopter companies and expanding their facilities will have impacts on Hawaiian salt farming,” reads an online petition against the zoning request.
“The close proximity of Port Allen Airport to the Hanapepe salt ponds and its potential contribution to the pollution, noise and chemical runoff has been a longstanding concern for pa‘akai practitioners,” the online petition continues.
The petition was started by Ku‘ulei Santos on the website change.org, where she provided a brief video about traditional pa‘akai farming techniques her’s and other families have used for decades at the site in Hanapepe.
“The more we talk about it, the more we educate people — the more people want to protect it, the more people want to preserve it, the more people want to do their part so this area stays the way it was meant to be,” Santos said.
On the Planning Commission agenda is a request to postpone the hearing and waive timelines as requested by attorney Lorna Nishimitsu in a letter dated April 25, 2019.
A report by Planning Director Ka‘aina Hull pertaining to the matter is expected to be read, and the petition started by Santos will be submitted to the commission.
The request for the zoning permit reads, “to allow modifications to an existing helicopter tour facility that includes restroom facilities, office trailer, storage and associated improvements on a parcel located along the mauka side of Kuiloko Road in Hanapepe, situated at its intersection with Lele Road, further identified as 3441 Kuiloko Road.”
Anyone wishing to sign the petition against the expansion can find the petition at change.org/p/county-of-kaua-i-pa-akai-farming-in-hanapepe. The petition is not asking for monetary donations.
Vice President of Marketing for Maverick Helicopters Brian Kristen sent TGI a prepared statement on the issue, saying they’re not the first company to fly out of Port Allen Airport and that they’re one of several operators who conduct tourisim-based helicopter flights over Kauai.
“Flight operations have been in place for nearly a century at Port Allen Airport with commercial flight services beginning in 1929,” Kristen said.
“There are daily helicopter and airplane operations at the federally funded and public Port Allen Airport besides Maverick Helicopters. We have also taken additional steps to reduce effects on natural habitats by exclusively flying Airbus EC130 ‘ECO-Star’ helicopters which have been classified as Quiet Technology by the federal government,” he said.
“Maverick Helicopters has never flown over the Salt Ponds of Hanapepe since we started operations in 2018. Maverick has witnessed other aircraft over the vicinity of the Salt Ponds of Hanapepe and have taken proactive measures to contact and notify other operators to avoid the area.
“Our goal is to showcase the beauty of Kauai as one of the world’s top destinations.”
Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.