By VALERIE MONSON, Staff Writer
KIHEI - Discussion on the best way to manage South Maui's fragile coastal areas - where overuse has led to a recent state-ordered ban on all commercial activities - began in earnest Monday as the Ahihi-Kinau/Keoneoio Advisory Group held its first meeting.
Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. wasted no time in setting the tone as he called for both of the reserve areas to be "closed off" for two years or until the group can come up with a management plan. Maxwell also told state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials that he hoped the committee's report would not just be paperwork that ends up in a drawer.
"Every task force I've been on, the outcome is completely different from what the members wanted," he said.
The group, appointed by DLNR, includes 12 residents, commercial operators and others who have been involved with the controversy that has exploded in the last year and focused mostly on the proliferation of kayak operations. A DLNR proposal that would have allowed limited kayak use in the Natural Area Reserve at Ahihi-Kinau was rejected by the Natural Area Reserve System (NARS) Commission a month ago.
About 30 members of the public attended the two-hour session at the Kihei Community Center.
Dan Davidson, deputy director of DLNR, assured Maxwell that the department was sincere in seeking the input of the Maui community, but said the plan must "fit into" the government structure to have any effect.
"I think we've demonstrated that we've been listening to you and that we will continue to listen," he said.
Davidson got an earful that - except for the rude behavior of one kayak operator - was offered with courtesy, respect and an apparent attempt to find a solution that would give priority to the care of the resources.
Perhaps the topic that generated the most talk was the job description of the two rangers who will be paid for three years by a grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. State officials expect the new hires to be on the job by September, but it was clear that what's expected of them remains up for debate.
While Davidson and others felt that the role of the rangers was educational in nature, like an ambassador or docent who would keep people in line simply by being present, there were those who wanted the workers to eventually have enforcement powers.
So a compromise was suggested: the two positions could include one docent and one enforcement officer, both of them trained in the cultural aspects of Ahihi-Kinau and Keoneoio.
Sumner Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch, wondered if a portion of the HTA grant could be funneled directly to DLNR's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE), so a qualified enforcement officer could be hired. Randy Awo, Maui County branch chief of DOCARE, said he only wished it could be that simple. Awo pointed out that the grant only funds the positions for three years and that anyone seriously interested in pursuing a career would be looking for something more permanent.
It was also mentioned that retired police officers might be good candidates, but they would no longer have the enforcement powers that went with their badges. DLNR officials said they would get information from the National Park Service about its law enforcement rangers to possibly use as a model.
Phil Ohta, Maui District State Parks Superintendent, said the long-awaited caretakers house at Makena State Park - where commercial activities are also banned - should be ready for occupancy soon, meaning that a DOCARE officer with enforcement capabilities might be only minutes away. Ohta said it was hoped the officer will be limited to patrolling the South Maui coastlines and not be required to respond to calls from all over the island like other DOCARE workers must do.
To prevent the rash of nighttime vandalism, Carrol Hall, owner of Maui Kayaks, said she agreed that a gate should be installed at the entrance to Keoneoio, with residents able to obtain access through the use of a slide card. Erdman said a lawyer from the Attorney General's office or the county's Corporation Counsel should be invited to a future meeting so the group doesn't wind up heading down an illegal path on the access issue.
To better educate visitors who often end up trampling the resources out of ignorance, Davidson said the state is in the process of preparing a brochure. Maxwell said it was important to direct tourists to other places more open to activities.
"If you tell them you can't go here, you need to tell them where they can go," said Maxwell.
Mark Nickerson, owner of Private Kayak Tours, reminded the crowd that at nearly every meeting held on the overuse of Ahihi-Kinau and Keoneoio, the public was singled out as the single biggest culprit. Kayak operators have said their tours actually prevent abuse of the resources because the tourists are kept in check.
The controversial guidebook, "Maui Revealed," - adored by visitors, but despised by many residents - was cited as the reason most independent travelers come to the area. According to Hall, the authors have finally agreed to meet with DLNR and others about revising their future edition to include better information.
Awo reported that since the ban on all commercial activities took effect two weeks ago, there has been only one kayak company that continues to violate the rules. Both civil and criminal investigations are being pursued against the operator, whom Awo declined to identify.
Makena Kayaks owner Dino Ventura, who has never taken his customers into the reserve, showed pictures of the area taken just days ago, a coastline at rest without the piles of kayaks and all the humans that come with them.
"You might not recognize that place, but it's Keoneoio," said Ventura.
But Davidson warned that some commercial operators on Oahu have tried to get around bans by having all their clients describe themselves as friends out for fun rather than paying clients.
There were other suggestions, too.
Mary Evanson, who has been pushing for more management of the area for years, held up the Makena-La Perouse State Park master plan from 1977 and said the document, never put into action, deserves another read.
Ann Fielding, a marine biologist who operates snorkel tours, asked that the Hawaiian names for such places known as "Aquarium," "Fishbowl" and "Dumps" be researched and used.
The only sour note of the morning came when Martin Kotz, owner of Pacific Coast Kayak, launched into an angry tirade that nearly got him escorted from the room.
"Everybody here is wrong!" cried Kotz. "Everything is the opposite of the truth!"
The next meeting will be held July 1 from 9 a.m. to noon, with the site to be announced later.
Valerie Monson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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