Hundreds rally for salt ponds

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    An overflow audience at the Planning Commission meeting use closed circuit television to view testimony, during the meeting centered around Maverick Helicopters and the surrounding Salt Pond area. About 250 people filled the overflow seating in the morning session at the Pi‘ikoi Building where about 80 people offered testimony.

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.”

11 Comments
  1. Wally Roberts June 26, 2019 2:24 am Reply

    Another money-grubbing, noise producing helicopter company.


  2. anonymous June 26, 2019 8:35 am Reply

    Where is Derek Kawakami!!!!!! Help our island & our people, not just the tourist!!!!


  3. anonymous June 26, 2019 8:36 am Reply

    Where is DEREK KAWAKAMI?????? Help save our island and our people, not just the tourist….


  4. For Kauai June 26, 2019 9:22 am Reply

    Instead of flying helicopters, fly hot air balloons. They’re quieter and cause less environmental harms.


  5. leinanikai June 26, 2019 9:50 am Reply

    $$$ talks 💩 walks


  6. Kaohinani June 26, 2019 11:01 am Reply

    According to the article, Hull stated that the permit is for work that has already been done ????? That should not be allowed. It only gives others the idea that ” asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission”


  7. vincent neidlinger June 26, 2019 12:17 pm Reply

    Within the United States of America, Hawaii included, Building Permits showing plans and drawings are REQUIRED BEFORE ANYTHING is started, or it is removed and restarted. Maverick should have NOT started project before Permit issued. PLEASE stay withing specifications of Permit Protocols… Local residents should NOT discriminate on those wishing to move into the future like was done with the Ferry issue…


  8. Objectivity June 27, 2019 6:04 am Reply

    Mr. Neidlinger, “After the Fact” permits are commonly used by municipalities all over the country. So, no, it is not correct to say anything that is built without a permit must be removed and start over. Burns Field has been opposed by locals ever since it was built in 1929 so this is nothing new. The salt folks are using the permit for rest rooms and office as a chance to eliminate helicopter tour operations there. Either this helicooter company operation is legal or it isn’t. If it is legal, they should be allowed to have rest rooms for customers, not plastic porta-potties. This is not the third world. As for “jet fuel contamination” of their salt, I suspect for every milligram of hydrocarbons you’d find a kilogram of bird poop. Maybe that’s why their salt is so dang tasty.


  9. harryoyama June 27, 2019 7:40 am Reply

    Another example of abusing the Hawaiian Culture for profit $$$$, you see it all around Hawaii including the mainland. Salt production the old way is preserved in these salt ponds and to allow such helicopter flights so close to these ponds risk disturbing its tranquility with excessive noise pollution as well as petroleum and cesspool seepage, that if ever happen, will destroy these salt ponds forever.

    Industrial developments are always located far from urban developments and for good reasons including those listed above and by comment in this section. So why does this helicopter business has even been allowed to operate so close to these salt ponds in the first place.

    If it wants to expand its operations, then this company should move their operations some where else.


  10. tunataxi June 27, 2019 6:11 pm Reply

    People camping… all sorts of parties and a quickly becoming crowded gathering place for families with more helicopters taking of literally within sight of the landing zone… what could go wrong. Move the operation to Lihue where it belongs… Please


  11. Hana Kamaka June 29, 2019 9:15 pm Reply

    Shut down all operations and decommission the airstrip from day to day usage. Those companies already operate unregulated out of Puolo Point. Where is the control tower? Hmmm?? Who keeps track of the landings and take-offs? Self regulated? 😂 Tell me how many flights actually get reported?


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