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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hiking tour firm fined

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

In a move that officials hope will deter hiking tour companies from illegally using public trails, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources yesterday handed down a $2,500 fine to a company that has repeatedly taken customers to the Manoa Falls Trail without permits.

"For the types of violations that have been going on, I wish the maximum fine was higher," Land Board member Tim Johns said at a hearing. "The state has worked very hard to develop this system to try and manage it, but if you have a few people that are not going to cooperate, the whole system has problems. I think you are getting off lightly."

Tour operators without permits not only bring too many people, they also fail to pay fees necessary for trail maintenance, officials said.

Magnum Tickets & Tours, a company that has been cited several times for conducting illegal hiking tours on state trails, was the first company to be fined under administrative rules that cover hiking trails established in 2001.

Jack Elmaleh, owner of Magnum Tickets, told the board he had nothing to do with the hiking so he should not be given a fine.

"I was hired ... to advertise and sell tickets to Manoa Falls," Elmaleh said.

However, under questioning, Elmaleh acknowledged that the company sold tickets, collected money and had no commercial hiking permits.

"Based on what is in front of me, there is every evidence that whoever was conducting the tours were acting as agents of Magnum," Johns said. "If you disagree, you can request a contested case hearing."

Unregulated tours are a particular concern at Manoa Falls Trail — a gentle uphill hike of less than a mile that winds through lush rain forest and across a small stream.

The trail is one of the five most popular hikes in the state because it is close to Waikiki and boasts a 100-foot waterfall.

According to DLNR rules, a maximum of five 12-person groups a day can reserve a slot and take a tour group up to Manoa Falls, but the groups cannot hike on weekends or holidays.

Magnum Tickets & Tours has been cited for conducting illegal tours three times since 2000. Each time the company was found guilty and fined.

The company has been seen conducting illegal tours on several other occasions by staff members of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' forestry and wildlife division and by other hikers, according Paul Conry, the division's administrator.

Conry told the board that those citations were criminal violations that led to fines of less than $100 per violation. Those fines were not enough to keep Magnum from conducting tours, he said.

The board then voted to impose the maximum fine of $2,500.

Elmaleh has 10 days to submit a written request for a contested case hearing to try to overturn the board's decision.

Conry said a second offense would carry a $5,000 fine.

The penalty sends a strong message to other companies, he said.

"The fine was appropriate," Conry said. "We want companies to stop their illegal activity and then actually get into the system (and) become users of the permit process."

There is a one-time $50 fee to become part of the commercial trail guide system through the state Na Ala Hele trails program and a $5 fee per hiker.

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.