DLNR ineffective, audit says
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
Hawai'i's natural and cultural resources will continue to deteriorate unless the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is much more aggressive about enforcement, according to a state audit released yesterday.
The audit found the department has not provided effective enforcement as the state's land and coastal water quality has declined due to overuse and abuse. The audit said the department only has enough enforcement officers to partially patrol about 18 hours a day and that as many as a quarter of its officers are unproductive.
Officers also have been distracted from their mission of protecting natural and cultural resources because of increasing law enforcement assignments, according to the audit, from overseeing security at cruise ship ports at Lahaina and Kailua, Kona to deterring summertime teenage drug and alcohol abuse at state parks and harbors.
The audit was requested by state lawmakers last session after hearings that were critical of the department's management under director Peter Young, who also is chairman of the board that oversees the department. In March, several environmental and cultural groups demanded changes and threatened to call for Young's resignation.
The audit, which focused on the department's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, described Young's lengthy response to its findings as a possible "diversionary tactic" that sidestepped many of the issues raised.
Young said he expected the audit's strong conclusions but was concerned by some of its tone.
"Some of this stuff has been going on year after year after year," Young said. "It's not about now. It's just about a process that's been going on for a while. And then you just look at audits in general. I mean, when was the last audit from the auditor that came out with favorable statements?"
Young said he told the auditors "we know that there's some challenges, and we're trying to make some improvements."
The department has asked the Legislature for about $800,000 to hire uniformed security people at 22 parks and harbors. The department also is using grant money for an experimental "Ranger" program at popular recreation areas. A "Mauka-Makai Watch" program, similar to the Neighborhood Watch anti-crime effort, also encourages people to report environmental crimes.
Young said he hopes these steps might free up enforcement officers to concentrate on safeguarding natural and cultural resources. "We are working on a variety of ways to make improvements to situations that have existed for potentially decades," he said.
State Rep. Brian Schatz, D-25th (Makiki, Tantalus), who had asked for audits of the department, said the Legislature should increase funding for enforcement and will continue to monitor overall management. "I think the division has a long way to go," he said. "I hope we can use this as a management tool and take the recommendations very seriously."
Auditors looked at three years of enforcement actions at the division's four branches. On average, officers on Maui brought 111 enforcement actions a year, while officers on the Big Island brought 91, O'ahu 67 and Kaua'i just 25. In interviews, field supervisors and officers said most of the 79 enforcement officers are motivated and hard-working but some "hardly did any work."
"They stated that, in the absence of controls, the system is wide open for abuse," the audit reported.
The audit also found that enforcement is limited by cumbersome administrative duties and poor strategic decisions. For example, most of the division's boats on O'ahu are stored at a Pearl City baseyard rather than deployed at harbors where officers could have easier access.
The audit recommends the department evaluate the division's mission, set performance guidelines and create more specific expectations for branch chiefs, field supervisors and officers.
Henry Curtis, of the environmental group Life of the Land, said he feels the department needs an overhaul. He said the state should also use some of its projected budget surplus to protect natural and cultural resources. "Now is the time to say, OK, put some of that money towards preserving Hawai'i's environment," he said.
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.