Hawaii Superferry riders took Maui rocks
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By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
WAILUKU, Maui — State conservation officers are investigating three O'ahu men who came to Maui on the Hawaii Superferry allegedly to load their three pickup trucks with river rocks and return to O'ahu.
They might have been successful except for a court order that suspended ferry service Aug. 27, stranding them on Maui.
The three pickup trucks were found parked at the Hawaii Superferry pier at Kahului Harbor filled with more than 900 large rocks, said Randy Awo, Maui branch chief for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement.
Awo testified about the case yesterday during a Maui Circuit Court hearing on a request for a permanent injunction that would keep Hawaii Superferry's 350-foot catamaran out of service while the state performs an environmental assessment on $40 million in ferry-related projects at four harbors.
The interisland vessel is expected to transport an average of 400 people and 110 vehicles, and one of the concerns raised by Neighbor Islanders in seeking the environmental review is that people from other islands traveling with their cars and trucks would overwhelm local camping and fishing spots and other natural areas, and return home with coolers full of 'opihi, maile, fish and other resources.
Conservation officials said a witness reported seeing the three trucks haul away the rocks, which were the size of coconuts or larger, from the mouth of 'Iao Stream in Paukukalo, a five-minute drive from the harbor. The trucks had arrived on the Hawaii Superferry on one of the two days of scheduled service to Maui before the court-ordered suspension.
The 'Iao Stream rocks are a type commonly used for imu, or cooking pits.
Under DLNR rules, "a person may gather or collect small quantities of pebbles or small rocks by hand for personal use," with the limit set at one gallon per person per day. The penalty for violating the law is a maximum fine of $500.
Terry O'Halloran, Hawaii Superferry director of business development, said he did not have all the facts of the case and declined to comment. He said the company would be open to having its employees receive training from DLNR in recognizing possible conservation violations.
DLNR Chairperson Laura H. Thielen said it would be wrong to blame the ferry for the alleged rock caper. "The reality is that anyone who is determined to steal natural resources is going to be doing it in a variety of ways. In this case, the protection effort that we do worked because there was a response ... ," Thielen said in a statement.
"There are people who will violate the laws with or without the Superferry. DLNR will persevere to protect the natural resources in all cases and on all islands."
Paul "Ka'uhane" Lu'uwai, a member of a well-known Native Hawaiian family of Maui fishermen, said the case confirms the fears "of anyone who is a fisherman or a cultural practitioner that these guys from outside would come and pillage our areas."
"These guys know the rules and they come over here thinking they can get away with something," he said.
Maui DLNR resource enforcement chief Awo was subpoenaed to testify at the Maui hearing yesterday by Isaac Hall, attorney for Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club and the Kahului Harbor Coalition, which opposed the state Department of Transportation's exemption of ferry-related projects at Kahului Harbor from Hawai'i's environmental review law. The Hawai'i Supreme Court ruled in favor of the three groups Aug. 23, ordering the DOT to conduct an assessment.
In the wake of the ruling, Hawaii Superferry launched service from Honolulu to Maui and Kaua'i two days ahead of schedule on Aug. 26. The following day, Maui Judge Joseph Cardoza granted Hall's motion for a temporary restraining order that suspended ferry service until the matter of the permanent injunction could be determined.
Cardoza allowed Awo to take the witness stand yesterday over the vigorous objections of Deputy Attorney General Vince Kanemoto, who said letting the conservation chief discuss the investigation "may affect the integrity of an open and ongoing case."
Awo was limited to testify to only things he had observed himself. He said more than 900 rocks had been seized as evidence.
Although Awo was prohibited from saying so, questioning by Hall made it clear the large rocks are a type used for imu.
The hearing on the injunction will reconvene at 1:30 p.m. today.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.