South Kohala’s Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is shown. On Thursday, the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks met with West Hawaii residents to discuss various activities at the park. (West Hawaii Today file photo)
State parks officials on Thursday made the case for charging parking fees at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area – but not without a barrage of questions and concerns being raised.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks has contracted with a private company to assess vehicle entry fees for nonresidents and tour vehicles. Fees will be collected beginning Monday. Nonresident vehicles will pay $5 while commercial tours will pay a scaled rate, ranging from $10 to $40, depending on the number of passengers.
“This is not a money-making venture, it’s not even a break-even venture — it’s to offset a shortfall,” said Division of State Parks Assistant Administrator Curt Cottrell.
Division of State Parks Administrator Dan Quinn said the division spends nearly $720,000 annually operating Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. That includes $254,178 for personnel, utilities and paying Hawaii County annually $465,785 for contracted lifeguard services.
A concession stand and cabins at the park generated $52,250 in 2012, according to the division.
With the one-year revocable permit to Republic Parking for the collection of parking and entry fees for commercial vehicles and nonresidents, the state will receive a minimum $200,000. Cottrell estimated the monthly income to be about $16,000.
“Try to look at this as an experiment — if it fails we will stop – it’s not a forever,” he said noting that the contract can be pulled with a 30-day notice to Republic.
Even with the parking and other revenue sources, the park relies on the state for more than $467,000 in operating and lifeguard costs at the park. The division also said it operates on a $3.9 million budget — half of the $8 million the division received in the early 1990s for operations and management.
More than two dozen people attended the meeting at the state recreation area in South Kohala. Also discussed were the completion of removal of World War II-era military training ordnance, finished state capital improvement projects and the state’s intent to put the current food concession stand out to public bid.
One of the concerns raised about charging fees at the park was the potential for access to the beach being restricted because there is no other place to park.
“You’re inferring that by charging a vehicle fee that we’re somehow interfering with the public’s access,” Cottrell said. “We’re not stopping people, we’re just saying for $5 (for nonresidents) you have the luxury of parking closer.”
Hawaii Police Department Officer Denise Smith encouraged support for the fees saying it will help reduce crimes in the area – both in the parking lot and on the beach.
Waimea resident Patti Cook asked the department whether it supports transferring the beach park to the county. On March 15, the House Committee on Water and Land and the Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources, and Hawaiian affairs deferred a measure that would do just that.
Without answering her question about whether DLNR Chairman William Aila supports the transfer, Cottrell said that no matter who controls the property, the park needs to generate revenue to support operating costs.
Hapuna Beach will be the fourth park location statewide to collect fees for out-of-state vehicles and commercial vehicle parking.
Other parks that have instituted fees are Nuuanu Pali Lookout State Wayside on Oahu, Iao Valley State Monument on Maui and Akaka Falls State Park. The associated fees at these three parks now generate approximately $700,000,
Cottrell said visitors are used to paying fees to visit various public facilities elsewhere in the U.S. and world.
“We’re not interested in charging our residents because they need the park, especially during the downturn in the economy,” he said. “You guys come and go while the visitors pay.”