LIHUE — Maverick Helicopters wants to spell out its side of a controversy surrounding aerial tours it started last year out of a small airstrip adjacent to the salt beds in Hanapepe.
In a letter recently distributed to the island’s hospitality industry, Maverick outlined several points.
“We’re just trying to do the right thing,” said Bryan Kroten, Maverick’s vice president of marketing. “We want to be good neighbors.”
Maverick has been criticized by some Native Hawaiians, who have harvested the pa‘akai for generations at the salt beds and remain fiercely determined to oppose any commercial expansion that might infringe on their sacred land.
Maverick is facing fines of up to $10,000 a day for structures the helicopter company recently built on its property without first obtaining permits from the county Planning Department. A Planning Commission meeting in June drew hundreds of residents who spoke out against Maverick’s permit request.
Kroten said Maverick is working with the county and the state to resolve “some of the issues that were in place prior to us buying the operation.”
“We are looking forward to a resolution,” he said Thursday.
He said they distributed the letter in response to questions they were receiving from some of their partners. Key, Kroten said, is doing all they can to get the correct information out there.
“We felt we needed to address it,” he said.
Some highlights of the letter:
• “Maverick Helicopters has never flown over the Salt Ponds, and we have computer tracking in every helicopter to prove it. Maverick adjusted its flight route further away from the Salt Ponds than the previous operator when operations began in 2018. There is also public tracking of all flights which verifies that our helicopters do not fly over.
• “Are helicopter operations at Port Allen Airport bad for the Salt Ponds? Not according to Environmental Assessment (State Project No. AK2010-01) dated January 14, 2002, which concluded that airport operations have no adverse effects on the surrounding areas including the Salt Ponds.
• “Maverick Helicopters were in contact with leaders of the Salt Pond community before the purchase of the helicopter operation. Furthermore, we received an email from a leader within the Salt Pond community dated Oct. 5, 2017 stating ‘My goal is to get that airport closed – just so you know my intentions.’
• “We have chosen to exclusively fly Quiet Technology EC130 “ECO-Star” helicopters in order to reduce effects on natural habitats. With this investment comes an estimated 50% reduction in noise.
• “What are the changes or improvements Maverick Helicopters is requesting? The business was acquired in 2018 with a restroom built into the existing hangar, constructed in 2005 by the previous owner. The bathroom was tied in to an existing cesspool that has been in place at Port Allen for over 40 years. This restroom and cesspool are no longer in use and were disabled.
“This system needs modification and we have filed a request to invest in making the existing restroom facility up to code. We also improved the previous customer area (container) as it was rusted and not suitable to guests. We invested in a new portable office unit which is larger than the original.
• “One of the permits we have asked for is to increase the square footage of the unit by 350-square-feet. Theft to the property occurred in which the existing generator and propane tank were stolen while the facility was inactive. Maverick Helicopters purchased a new propane tank and generator which were larger than the existing ones prior to permitting, for this we take full responsibility.”
• “Our wish is that we can move forward and leave behind the negative history associated with the previous operators and owners. We feel very confident that once the community learns who and what we are about, we can coexist. Our goal is to promote and educate about the history and cultural values of Kauai while showcasing its natural beauty.”
Kroten addressed comments by some who say the company should fly out of Lihue. He said they can’t now because there is a waiting list and they are already on it.
“That’s not an option, and it hasn’t been an option for years,” Kroten said.
Kroten said Maverick has been around more than 20 years and has one of the highest reputation levels in the helicopter industry. He encouraged people to review Maverick’s records regarding passenger approval and safety and asked that they “give us a chance and look at who we are and what we are.”
“I think people will be pleasantly surprised,” he said.
He added Mavericks plans to stay on Kauai “a long time.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.