By VALERIE MONSON, Staff Writer
HONOLULU - The Natural Area Reserve System Commission rejected a "conceptual plan" by the state Monday that would have permitted commercial kayaks at Ahihi-Kinau.
The 7-2 decision effectively kills any chance in the near future for issuing a concession that would have allowed a limited number of kayaks in the reserve that's known for its abundance of native species, large coral heads and inland pools that contain a rare kind of shrimp. Although the panel serves in an advisory capacity to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, any commercial activity in a natural area reserve must have the approval of the commission and its recommendation to the board.
"This is the best thing that could happen," said Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., among two dozen or more Maui residents who traveled to the meeting on Oahu. "The commission seemed to like the idea of closing the area down and letting the new advisory group take a year or two to come up with a sensible usage plan that would not endanger the cultural or natural resources."
The vote also leads to questions about what will happen to the many kayaks that have been launching from nearby Keoneoio (La Perouse Bay) into Ahihi-Kinau. Because the land board ruled almost 1¢ years ago that commercial activities must have permits to operate in state forests, parks, natural area reserves and unencumbered lands that include many beaches, it's unclear if the kayakers - or other moneymaking endeavors - will now be subject to citations and fines.
Dan Davidson, deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, acknowledged the quandary.
"There's illegal activities going on," Davidson said. "I'm not sure where this puts commercial use. . . We now have to access our DOCARE (Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement) resources and determine what we can do."
Davidson and Scott Derrickson, representing the state Office of Planning, were the only panel members to support the plan. Patrick Conant, for the Department of Agriculture, abstained. Biologist Lloyd Loope, the commissioner from Maui, sided with the majority to not allow commercial operations at this time.
DLNR had recommended to the commission that permits be issued for no more than two groups of 10 kayaks each day at the coves known as "Fishbowl" and "Aquarium." Davidson said the action was suggested, in part, to serve as a "management tool" to assist with enforcement because legal operators would report violators. The state's enforcement division has long been understaffed.
Commissioners, however, didn't buy it.
"There was a lot of concern about any commercial use in the reserve," said Davidson.
With more guidebooks directing visitors to the areas and a growing number of kayak operators leading tours, Ahihi-Kinau and Keoneoio have suffered from an explosion of use in recent years. A working group established by the state last summer reported finding broken coral marked by bits of plastic from kayaks, rodents attracted by discarded food and human waste. There was also evidence of poaching and feeding of fish.
Mayor Alan Arakawa and Maui County Council Member Wayne Nishiki sent written testimony that asked the commission to deny DLNR's concept - and to hold any future meetings on Maui. State Rep. Joe Souki addressed the commission in person, joining those who oppose commercial activities in the area which was considered so rare and special that it was the first component of the Natural Area Reserve System when the network was established 30 years ago.
Several members of the kayaking community were in attendance, as well, maintaining that their operations accounted for only a small percentage of the vessels in the reserve. The owners have said they are policing themselves and setting up limits on their own accord.
Davidson agreed that noncommercial use of Ahihi-Kinau and Keoneoio will also need to be discussed. He said he was hopeful that the newly appointed Ahihi-Kinau/Keoneoio Advisory Group would help guide the department on management issues, including how to best use the two rangers that will soon come on board, thanks to a grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The group's first meeting is set for May 3.
Maui County will also be a part of any revised plan, said Davidson. The stretch of road that goes through Makena and ends at Keoneoio is under county jurisdiction.
Although those who spoke did so with passion, Davidson felt the tone of the meeting was "cordial." He was hopeful that the various parties could find a solution.
"The testimony clearly indicated that people still want to keep working with us," he said. "We're going to keep working on this; we don't have a choice."
Maui NARS specialist Bill Evanson was pleased with the decision - and the turnout."I'm proud to say I work on Maui, where people care so much about the island," said Evanson. "This will allow us to take a step back and make sure we're as protective of the resources as they deserve."
Valerie Monson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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