State's mooring fees at Kawaihae Harbor deemed illegal
By Carolyn Lucas
West Hawaii Today
Area boat owners are claiming the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is illegally charging mooring permit fees at Kawaihae Harbor -- and the state Attorney General's office agrees.
The state attorney's office recently informed DLNR's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation it cannot issue permits for facilities not under its control.
The Attorney General's opinion was written after the DLNR tried to enforce its regulations at Kawaihae, said Ed Underwood, the division's administrator.
The Attorney General's Land/Transportation Division did not return messages left at its Honolulu office and could not be reached as of press time Thursday. State offices were closed on Friday because of furloughs.
However, mooring and anchoring of recreational vessels are allowed at Kawaihae on "an interim basis" and as authorized by DOT in writing prior to mooring, according to Hawaii Administrative Rules Title 19, Chapter 42, Subchapter 2.
Underwood did not know exactly how long DLNR has been charging fees at Kawaihae Harbor, but said it began under an agreement with the DOT following the mandated transfer of more than 40 small boat harbors and boat ramps between the state agencies.
He also could not provide the specifics of the agreement Thursday.
Nearly 18 years have passed since the Legislature shifted the responsibility for Hawaii's recreational boating facilities from the DOT to DLNR.
Since July 1, 1992, DLNR's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation has managed the 54 former DOT facilities.
Still DOT's Harbor Division has jurisdiction over 10 harbors, including Kawaihae Harbor, and its numerous recreational and commercial activities.
While DOT has jurisdiction over Kawaihae Harbor, it has no interest or intention to get involved with noncommercial harbor activities, DOT Director Brennon Morioka said Wednesday.
Underwood claimed DLNR had originally intended to relocate the recreational vessels into the south end of Kawaihae, where improvements are planned.
"However, (the U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers said we would need to obtain a nationwide permit to do so and that (relocating the vessels to the south) may jeopardize our ongoing efforts to adopt the coral mitigation plan needed to build the harbor," he said.
Underwood said DOT and DLNR will be meeting next week to come up with a plan to resolve issues pertaining to mooring permits, as well as how to accommodate 23 recreational vessels now berthed in the basin on the northwest side of the harbor.
Owners of boats there -- who spoke to West Hawaii Today on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals -- say the legal issues need to be corrected before their permits expire in late July.
Underwood claimed there is no room at other Big Island harbors to relocate the recreational vessels to. He also mentioned DLNR has stopped providing lighting, rubbish removal and portable toilet services because of jurisdictional issues.
"We are working on these issues with DOT and will have some answers by May 21," he added.