DLNR proposing streamlined fishpond restoration permitting


Groups looking to restore historical Hawaiian fishponds need as many as 17 county, state and federal permits to do so, Department of Land and Natural Resources officials say.

The permitting process itself could take years and cost as much as $50,000 to $80,000.

The department’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands is proposing a streamlined permitting process for some fishpond projects, depending on the project’s scope, materials to be used, location and potential environmental impact, according to a final environmental assessment for a statewide programmatic general permit and programmatic agreement. Officials gave the environmental document a finding of no significant impact.

“There is a renewed interest in the repair, restoration, maintenance and operation of traditional Hawaiian fishponds, for their cultural, economic and ecological value,” the document said. “However, community organizations and traditional fishpond practitioners have struggled for decades to maintain and restore fishpond systems due to the abundance of government regulations that control uses within the shoreline area, making it difficult to obtain all of the necessary approvals to revitalize these important resources. The difficulty of Hawaiian fishpond revitalization is compounded by the unique, fragile, and sometimes-rugged environments in which they exist.”

The department would create a three-tier review process under which routine maintenance of existing fishponds, done by hand or with hand tools and using existing traditional materials, would not be subject to regulation. Minor repairs, such as replacing small wall sections, individual rocks or other wall materials, fixing gates or minor dredging by nonmechanized means, as well as building or placing minor structures of less than 600 square feet, stocking and harvesting with traditional methods and removal of alien species would be a Tier I review. Tier II would be emergency repairs, or work that involves repairing, restoring and operating 10 to 50 percent of the original structure. Tier III, which would require the most review, but still fall within the streamlined process, is work that encompasses more than 50 percent of the original pond.

The goal is to create a single application process for eligible fishpond projects. Officials said they reserved the discretion to exclude major projects from the program. Projects that would using mechanized equipment would be subject to a higher level of review but could still be eligible to use the streamlined process, DLNR Planner Michael Cain said.

“It’s for any Hawaiian fishpond,” he said.

DLNR officials were seeing groups trying to restore fishponds clearing the department’s permitting process, then getting hung up when they approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the next step.

That’s the next agency DLNR needs to approach now that the environmental assessment is complete, Cain said. After the corps signs off on the permit, DLNR will develop the conservation district use application for fishponds and host statewide meetings.

Thus far, the proposal is getting mostly positive reviews from the public, Cain said. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs submitted a letter of support, and state legislators have also said they approve of streamlining the process.

“The impetus for the permit came out of some conferences cultural practitioners had,” he added. “That helps. It’s a nice synergy.”

Several opportunities for public review of the permitting and planning process remain in place. DLNR won’t implement the program until March at the earliest, according to the environmental documents.