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State to Revise Rules for Protected `Aina

Ancient fishponds, indigenous forests, beaches and reefs are just a few of Hawaii’s remaining natural and cultural resources residing in state-owned conservation districts.

After 16 years of no major changes, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is looking to revise the policies that protect these conservation regions. Some of the proposed changes would affect the shoreline setback, permits for land management activity, removal of invasive plants, fishponds and beach restoration among many other things.

A public meeting on the matter was held last Wednesday on Molokai, to gather community mana`o and help craft the amendments to the administrative rules that regulate such lands.

“The main purpose of the changes is to clean up some of the language and clarify some of the rules,” said Michael Cain, planner for the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, which oversees nearly two million acres of private and public lands in the conservation district.

But, on Molokai, nearly all testifiers were maddened by the lack of time given to thoroughly review the 71-page proposal that details each revision.

“This process is sorry,” said testifier Walter Ritte. “You’re asking too much from the public. You’re not bringing us along.”

The focus of several testimonies was restoring subsistent practices of Molokai fishponds, all of which are governed by conservation district rules. Neither the current rules nor amendments address the use of traditional methods of Hawaii fishponds and lo`i kalo, or taro fields.

“Nowhere in the language does it say that these cultural resources are protected,” said Mahealani Davis, one of a handful of testifiers.

At the moment, the restoration of such historic fishponds entails acquiring permits, which can be a lengthy and costly process, as well as an Environmental Assessment (EA) and management plan.

“It would be nice to see a process implemented that would better facilitate the restoration of fishponds,” said Maui County Planner Nancy McPherson, who is familiar with fishpond issues on Molokai.
 
Emergency Situation
Also outlined in the proposed changes is a new permit requirement for emergencies.

Ed Reinhardt, president of Maui Electric Company, spoke in opposition of this amendment, stating it would prohibit his company from making any emergency repairs before obtaining a permit.

“If there’s an outage to repair on conservation land, we wouldn’t be able to go in without a permit,” he said. “And what happens if the DNLR director is not immediately available to issue a permit?”

Reinhardt said he is working with DLNR to “hopefully make adjustments.”

Rules of Interest
Also suggested was an amendment to shoreline setbacks – a line past which no structures or coastal modifications are allowed. The amendment would establish the setback line approximately 40 feet from the shoreline. The current rules do not specify shoreline setbacks.

The public will also see a number of fee hikes. Board permit applications would increase by $500, public hearing fees from $250 to $500, departmental permit applications from $50 to $250, and temporary variance applications from $100 to $250.

If passed, new rules would specify that only people with property interest, land residency or anyone directly affected by a permit can appeal. Rules currently state that any person can appeal to the state.

After meetings on all islands are held, and the amendments are fined tuned by the conservation office, DLNR will have to approve the changes. The public has until Sept. 7 to submit testimony.

For information on submitting testimony, call the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands at (808) 587-0377.

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