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DOBOR to hold hearing on commercial ocean uses

March 29, 2014 - 12:05am

Residents and business owners will get a chance Thursday to weigh in on how commercial users are allowed to operate in state waters.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation will hold a public hearing on draft rule changes that would limit commercial use permits, require registration and fees for commercial surfboards, canoes and other watercraft, and require all commercial activities in state waters to obtain a permit. The rules would also define insurance requirements for commercial activities, among other changes. The Thursday meeting, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Kealakehe High School cafeteria, is one of five planned statewide.

An attorney for the Hawaii Fishing and Boating Association in February requested the additional round of hearings, saying the DLNR didn’t follow notice requirements for the first meetings last fall. DLNR officials denied any Sunshine Law violations and say the additional meetings are being held in response to community interest, according to an email from DLNR Education and Outreach Coordinator Dan Dennison.

Sunshine Law aside, some businesses have criticized not only the process but the ideology behind the changes.

“These rules were created in a dark room and I think that’s wrong,” said Rick Gaffney, president of the fishing and boating association and owner of Pacific Boats &Yachts at Honokohau Harbor.

DLNR administrators say the updates are needed to keep pace with the increase in water-related commercial activity and to make sure all commercial operators are paying what they should to state coffers.

“Fees for commercial water-based activity have been in place for 20 years plus and this is a review and updating of those rules and associated fees,” Dennison said in the email.

But Gaffney said the existing rules are massive and disorganized and the proposed changes don’t help that situation. His organization of some 1,400 commercial and recreational ocean users for years has been calling on the state to convene an advisory board of stakeholders that could help craft meaningful changes, he said.

That way, DOBOR would not end up with such proposals as the $1 registration fee for surfboards and water sports equipment and the $5 fee for canoes — revenue that wouldn’t cover the cost of administering such a program, he said.

Eric McCormick, owner of Kona Boat Rentals, said that businesses like his want greater input “to get a simpler rule package the common boater can understand.”

“They (DOBOR) want to pass an amendment that states no business entity can have more than two commercial permits,” McCormick said. “That’s like saying a company can have only two taxis, or two fishing poles. Who gives the authority to limit business this way? It seems socialistic.”

Gaffney said that existing businesses that already have multiple permits would be grandfathered in and able to hang onto those permits, but newcomers would be discouraged by the limit.

“Essentially that’s saying there can be no new entrepreneurs,” he said.