LIHU‘E — The county has allocated funding to perform a parking study at Po‘ipu, Lydgate and Hanalei’s Black Pot beach parks.
A $30,000 cut of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act money will go toward this study, to be performed by the Department of Parks &Recreation prior to mitigation and possibly imposing fees on non-resident beach-goers.
“We all know the impacts our parks are facing with the surge of tourism,” Managing Director Michael Dahilig said. “This study will look at ways to better manage the parking situation of tourist vehicles while making it easier for residents to find parking at more-popular destinations.”
Ordinance 1087, formerly Bill No. 2805 that passed through the County Council in December, allows the department to impose parking fees on non-residents, and directs the department to conduct a study to determine those rates. The department will be facilitating the feasibility study, but would need to go back to the council for further approval to enact any such program.
“The study is required by law before we can establish a fee structure at beach parks for visitors,” Councilmember Luke Evslin said. “I think it’s anecdotally clear that some of our beach parks are over capacity, or at least reaching capacity, but we don’t really have clear usage data. This study will help give us a more clear picture.”
Evslin, who introduced the measure with Councilmember Mason Chock, said the bill was in development before the pandemic hit, but it’s clear the issues remain.
“The bill was in development from pre-COVID, and it was developed in response to the clear fact that we are over capacity for tourism,” Evslin said. “As we can see with the rapid return to basically pre-COVID visitor numbers, the pandemic did not change the fundamental fact that we need to better manage our tourism industry.”
Prior to the pandemic, the county was well on its way to setting record-high visitor numbers. When the pandemic did hit, some days fewer than 100 people entered the county. Now, with looser travel restrictions, a bounce in tourism is happening.
On Thursday, June 24, some 32,479 people flew into the state, a little over 2,575 coming into Lihu‘e, according to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.
The bill stipulates that any fees derived be added to the Special Trust Fund for Parks and Playgrounds and stay in the “respective district in which such fees were generated.” Violating the parking fees would come with a $100 first-offense fine. Upwards of two offenses would result in a fine of up to $500.
“The county has very few direct mechanisms to capture tourist revenue or reduce the industry’s impact on our infrastructure and natural resources, and parking fees at beach parks can be one of our tools,” Evslin said. “The intent is both to raise revenue for the park and help reduce overall visitor numbers at some of our most-crowded beach parks.”
In the first wave of American Rescue Plan Act money, the county received over $7 million of a total of about $14 million over the next two federal fiscal years.
“The way I see it, American Rescue Plan Act money is to get us back on our feet,” Chock said.
Evslin said that since the county has taken a hit because of the lack of state transient accommodation tax funds, the county needs to continue to look at means of visitor-derived income.
“While most of the ARPA funds will be going out to the community, the proposed study, which is less than half a percent of the first ARPA allocation, is the first step towards helping diversify county revenue collection via parking fees for tourists,” Evslin said.
“This is necessary in the short term to help refill our reserve fund, and necessary in the long run to put us on better fiscal ground while helping reduce impacts on our infrastructure and natural resources,” said Evslin.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.