LIHUE — A Kauai County Planning Commission meeting drew a crowd of well over a hundred local residents, who showed up at the county government building in Lihue on Tuesday morning to speak on behalf of their culture, their heritage, their land and their salt.
Maverick Helicopters’ request for a zoning permit is facing staunch resistance. A couple hundred people showed up in person on Tuesday to stand in solidarity with families who have harvested the pa‘akai at the salt beds in Hanapepe for generations, and more than 21,000 people from all over the world signed an online petition asking the planning commission to deny the permit.
Kuulei Santos and Malia Nobrega-Olivera are president and vice-president of Hui Hana Paʻakai o Hanapepe, an organization made up of representatives from Native Hawaiian families. They feel that Maverick Helicopters, and the other commercial enterprises that operate out of Burns Field airport in Hanapepe, are infringing on their sacred lands by contributing to air and noise pollution and drawing excess vehicle traffic to the area.
They submitted a petition for intervention to the planning commission, asking that the commissioners hold a contested case hearing before deciding whether to grant the permit. They were granted that right at the end of Tuesday’s public hearing.
Meanwhile, Maverick Helicopters has already completed the work it is now requesting a permit for — modifications and additions have been made to structures on the property at Burns Field — and as the commission works toward resolving the issue, the company continues to operate as usual.
Below are some notable quotes from the nearly five hours of testimony provided in three-minute intervals:
• Loui Cabebe — “It is a sacred area. It is a living museum.” “You know, I no go in your house, and go walk inside there, ‘Hey. I like use your bathroom.’”
• Pi‘ilani Kali — “I’m not here to repeat what other people have already said about the dust control, the cesspool, the tourist traffic, the sand and erosion. I am here to talk about the cultural genocide you folks have been allowing to happen for so long. Everywhere.”
• Janet Kahalikomo — “We are the only culture who continue to farm the salt in the whole Pacific archipelago. And I’m still here! And as long as I’m still here, I will keep fighting.”
• Mel Rapozo — “The bottom line is this — these people are building without a permit.”
• Bryan Kroten, a spokesperson for Maverick Helicopters, sent the following statement via email Tuesday afternoon.
“The permits in question with the County of Kauai will not increase the number of flights operated. The permits will allow us to repair, maintain and improve items associated with our lease agreement with the State of Hawaii. We are not attempting business expansion despite public perception.
“Flight operations have been in place for nearly a century at Port Allen Airport with commercial flight services beginning in 1929. Airplane and helicopter operations occur daily at the federally funded and public Port Allen Airport. Maverick Helicopters is one of several operators who conduct tourism-based flights over Kauai and also depart from Port Allen Airport.”
The hearing was called to a close at around 2 p.m., almost five hours after public testimony began. The planning commissioners had listened to nearly 80 people speak against the helicopter company and its request for a permit. About 50 people still crowded into the small meeting room, and a dozen or so more waited outside.
Planning Director Kaina Hull addressed the group, saying that in light of the overwhelming public turnout opposing the permit and the “several hundred pieces of testimony” the department had received in the past few hours alone, he was in “strong agreement” with the petitioners’ request to intervene.
The planning commission voted unanimously to approve the petitioners’ intervenor status and elected not to send the matter to a hearing officer.
“We heard what you guys said,” Commissioner Kimo Keawe told the crowd. “That’s why we’re doing this.”
The commission now has to schedule further hearings to resolve the dispute, a process that is almost certain to take months, if not years, to complete. In the mean time, one commissioner wanted to know how the planning department will handle ongoing operations at Maverick Helicopters.
Hull said because the requested permit is for work that has already been completed, the matter will need to be addressed by officials int he planning department charged with enforcing the county zoning ordinances.
“Given what has occurred today,” Hull said, “that is something I will be returning to with the enforcement team, essentially as soon as this meeting is over.”