By VALERIE MONSON, Staff Writer
KIHEI - Closing the road at Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve to keep out a growing tide of tourists - as well as vandals - will be harder to accomplish than just putting up a gate, an advisory group to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources was told Tuesday.
Don Couch, executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, acknowledged that even though his boss would favor shutting off vehicular access to the sensitive locations immediately "if he could," he can't because of two sticking points that both involve action by the Maui County Council.
First of all, said Couch, because the county doesn't officially own the narrow road through the Makena lava fields, the council would have to accept it in its substandard condition, something that lawmakers don't like to do. If that happened, the council would then have to pass another ordinance to close the road.
In either case, it could be years before anything happens, if the group decided to take that route.
While that bump in the road frustrated some who think that restricting visitors is the only way to give the once-unspoiled area a much-needed rest, it relieved others who felt it was unfair to punish everyone for the abuses created by a few.
"DLNR's obligation is to make areas available to the public, so a shutdown is a very big deal," said Dan Davidson, deputy director of DLNR. "If we're going to exclude the public, there needs to be more of a debate."
There were appeals during the three-hour meeting at Lokelani Intermediate School from fishers, recreational kayakers and ocean lovers in general to keep the targeted seashores open.
"If we lose this, then what's next?" asked Joseph Carvalho Jr., who teaches his young son how to fish at Keoneoio, partly because there's no other place left. "Everything is being taken away from us."
Davidson told members that Matt Ramsey, a natural area reserve specialist on Oahu, is being transferred to Maui to begin patrolling the site. Ramsey, whose grandparents are from Maui, should be on the job by the end of the month and also plans to apply for one of the two permanent ranger positions that will be funded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
With Ramsey on the scene to educate visitors and keep them out of places where they could damage resources, Davidson was hopeful that the impact of uninformed visitors would decrease.
The new man on the scene will have his work cut out for him. Cheryl Vann of the Friends of Keoneoio provided figures that showed that the NAR and Keoneoio receive 250,000 visitors a year, 75 percent of them tourists.
Dino Ventura couldn't understand why the county continues to pave the little road which "makes it more dangerous." He said until the county paved it the first time 10 years ago it was "barely a road" and just six months ago, half of the route was paved again. During a break, Couch said the road was actually an old government road. As with so many roads around the island, it was never clear if the county or state has jurisdiction.
Ventura also wondered when the state was going to crack down on other users of the reserve as it has on fishers, who have not been allowed in those waters since the NAR was established in the 1970s.
"If we had to give that up, then to allow snorkeling and all that other adventuring to go on, that's a conflict in what we're trying to accomplish," said Ventura. "If you stop the fishermen, you've got to stop everybody else. We've been dancing around this issue for how long now?"
Advisory committee members agreed to invite snorkel boat companies to the next meeting.
If the road can't be closed, said Pat Borge, then the state should block the trails that lead to two protected coves in the reserve known as the "Fishbowl" and "Aquarium," that are most at risk from human impact.
Any such move would require the state's Natural Area Reserve System Commission to approve a rule shutting down the trails.
Pardee Erdman of Ulupalakua Ranch said damage to historic sites past the Keoneoio monument had forced him to take steps to end vehicular access to ranch lands. Foot traffic will still be permitted so those who want to fish can still walk along the coastline.
Robert Luuwai, a fisherman with long ties to the Makena area, said commercial fishing boats that drop anchor beyond Keoneoio near the lighthouse cause harm to coral beds, too.
While Davidson said he felt the group had made a lot of progress in only three meetings, others were dejected because of the magnitude of what lies ahead because of so many visitors and residents out of control.
The group will meet again Sept. 9 with a site visit from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., meeting at the parking area known as "Dumps." A meeting will follow at 5 p.m. in the Kihei Community Center.
Valerie Monson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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