Bay study, management measure deferred in House hearing


Legislation seeking an environmental study of Keauhou Bay, the creation of an ocean management recreation area and a moratorium on new commercial vessels permits in the area is likely dead.

House Bill 2226 was considered Friday during a joint hearing with the Committee on Land &Water and Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources &Hawaiian Affairs at the state Capitol. The committees recommended the measure be deferred, after considering testimony on the bill’s merits or faults and not having enough lawmakers on board. Six testifiers submitted comments in favor of the bill and five opposed it.

Rep. Faye Hanohano, Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources &Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman, was reportedly one of the lawmakers who didn’t want the measure to advance. Hanohano, D-Puna, was unavailable for an interview Monday, her staff said.

“The bill is probably dead at this point for this session,” said Rep. Richard Creagan, the bill’s primary introducer. “It needed both committees approval to move forward, and I believe it could have been worked with.”

Creagan, D-Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Ocean View, Naalehu, was “pretty much handed this bill.” It was a solution from his predecessor, Denny Coffman, who vacated his seat last year, and Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, as a way to address the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ management of Keauhou Bay and to stop the state agency’s current proposal to almost double the mooring sites there. Evans, Committee on Land &Water chairwoman, could not be reached for comment, as of press time Monday.

“It’s clear Keauhou Bay has a lot of problems and DLNR’s proposed action to expand the number of moorings is causing more problems,” Creagan said. “The public wants DLNR to explain exactly what it wants to do and how it will address the impacts in a more transparent way. Many are not satisfied with how DLNR has chosen to interact with the community on this issue. This bill was a way to try to delay DLNR from putting more moorings in this already over-utilized bay and to come up with a comprehensive plan that satisfies the needs of the community.”

Creagan advised the public to continue letting lawmakers know about specific concerns pertaining to Keauhou Bay, as well as to “keep the pressure up” on DLNR and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, now accepting comments on DLNR’s request for a Department of Army permit to remove and replace all mooring structures and add seven new mooring sites to the existing nine.

The public has until Feb. 17 to mail comments on this project or make public hearing requests to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District, Regulatory Office, Building 230, Attention: Jessie Paahana, Fort Shafter, HI 96858-5440. Testimony may also be emailed to jessie.k.paahana@usace.army.mil. Include Corps file number, POH-2012-00127, with comments.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, Committee on Land &Water vice chairwoman, pointed out that nothing is ever dead at the Legislature until the last day of session, which is May 1, and HB2226 could be brought back if there’s a change in action. Or, the effort could advance through a different bill.

Lowen, one of the introducers, said HB 2226 helped bring to light the ongoing issues taking place at Keauhou Bay and brought the conversation to the public forum. She only wished the dialogue on how to best manage the bay could have lasted longer through the session. She would like DLNR and all stakeholders to have the opportunity to meet face-to-face and collaboratively develop a strategy addressing concerns.

DLNR opposed HB 2226 Friday.

“Because of the long history in Keauhou Bay, the recent survey that was conducted by Sea Engineering and the U.S. Corps of Engineers permit application already under environmental review, the department does not feel a baseline environmental study is needed,” stated DLNR Chairman William Aila in his testimony.

Aila explained Keauhou Small Boat Harbor had 15 offshore moorings and four recreational berths when it was transferred from the state Department of Transportation to DLNR. He also mentioned a 1985 study by the Corps, showing the bay had 24 offshore moorings and four recreational berths.

Last year, DLNR hired Sea Engineering to survey the bay to determine how many vessels could be safely moored there and to design a new system. That survey found vessels moored within the Coast Guard channel, as well as existing moorings “haphazardly placed in the bay” and “not properly engineered.”

The proposed mooring area is “basically the same as the existing one, but because vessels are moored in an organized fashion, we were able to provide an additional seven moorings for recreational vessels,” Aila wrote.

According to Aila, Keauhou Bay is within the West Hawaii Ocean Recreation Management Area. A limit of six commercial use permits for vessels moored in the bay exists and all are accounted for. “There is one additional ‘Vessel Moored Elsewhere’ commercial use permit that has been issued for the loading dock and the department is not issuing any new commercial use permits for the harbor at this time,” he wrote.

Several opponents felt the bill would negatively affect current businesses and bay users. Mike Dennis of Ocean Safaris Inc. said the bill will “ruin local business and opportunities for recreation.” He claimed the bill, as written, seems like the current commercial permit holders would be denied the new ones once expired. Such permits must be renewed annually. Another problem with the moratorium, Dennis stated, was other ramp permit holders could still operate in the bay and the vessels moored elsewhere permit holders wouldn’t be affected.

Some testifiers suggested the moratorium should be on any additional moorings, either recreational and commercial.

Lii Makau Inc. owner Bill Murtagh supported HB 2226, saying he has witnessed Keauhou Bay change from the safe, enjoyable, special and historical place to a complete danger zone.

“The bay has been at maximum capacity for many years on both commercial and recreational levels, with no intervention from the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, despite the request of many individuals, associations, clubs and those with vested interest in the bay,” he wrote.

“Those responsible for the mismanagement and neglect of their responsibilities to properly maintain and protect our resources should be held responsible or required to pay for the environmental study depending on the findings.

“This would deter future occurrence of violations according to the state’s priorities that are listed in order as protect, recreational, then commercialism. HB2226 is very much needed, along with many other restrictions and revised rules to ensure our resources in properly maintained and preserved.”