Lawsuit calls for study of tour boat operations off Kaanapali

The Maui News | November 23, 2017

By LEE IMADA, Managing Editor


Groups seeking an injunction to halt activities until the impact is assessed

West Maui shoreline protection and Native Hawaiian groups are challenging commercial use permits issued by the state to tour boat operators for anchorage off Kaanapali Beach and are seeking a preliminary injunction to halt activities related to the permits until environmental assessments are performed.

Na Papa’i Wawae ‘Ula’ula, the West Maui Preservation Association and West Maui waterman Randy Draper filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Environmental Court of the 2nd Circuit against the Department of Land and Natural Resources over the current permitting system for operators of personal watercraft and parasailing, snorkeling and whale watch tours off Kaanapali Beach.

A recent check found 25 permits for ocean-based operations at the so-called “Kaanapali Anchorage” directly offshore from Kaanapali Beach, plaintiffs’ attorney Lance Collins said Wednesday evening.

Plaintiffs argue that the environmental impacts of the tour boat operations have not been reviewed. At the very least, an environmental assessment is required before issuing permits for uses off Kaanapali Beach, the lawsuit says.

Among their specific concerns, plaintiffs say “it is nearly impossible” for the dozens of permitted boats that anchor at Kaanapali to use the overcrowded single pump-out station at Lahaina Harbor 5 miles away. The lawsuit says that the vessels that receive permits from the DLNR are not equipped to empty their bilges at the pump-out station.

This means that the waste from these boats is being discharged directly into the ocean, the plaintiffs said. The bilges are not being emptied in the Kaanapali Beach area but somewhere along the shoreline, Collins added.

“Under the recent aquarium fish decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court, it is not clear on what basis the DLNR has the authority to allow the regular dumping of human waste into the waters off West Maui without any kind of environmental review,” said Sharyn Matin, president of the West Maui Preservation Association, an organization that aims to protect coastlines and nearshore waters.

In September, the state high court halted commercial scooping of reef fish for aquariums until the state reviews the trade’s environmental impact. The issuing of permits by the state for commercial aquarium fish collection must comply with the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, the ruling said.

Joshua Wisch, special assistant to the state attorney general, said Wednesday afternoon that the attorney general is reviewing the lawsuit and whether the aquarium fish decision applies to this case.

The use of public beach access parking stalls by customers of tour operations was another key issue raised in the lawsuit. Customers of the tour operations are taking up parking stalls set aside by hotels for noncommercial recreational beach use as a condition of development, the plaintiffs said.

“The tour boat operators externalize the cost of customer parking by using these stalls and depriving the public of its entitlement to beach access parking,” the plaintiffs said.

“We fought to get these public access parking stalls required so local people could also enjoy the beach at Kaanapali,” said Draper of Napili. “These public stalls are not to be used by the hotels, and they shouldn’t be available to outsider commercial outfits either.”

Collins explained that the parking issue could fall under an environmental assessment because the parking lots are in the special management area near shorelines. Limits on parking could limit the number of permits issued, he said in explaining the impacts of connecting the parking and an environmental assessment.

DLNR has “little or no information” on the cumulative environmental impacts of the tour boat operations in violation of state environmental review laws and the agency’s constitutional public trust duties, the plaintiffs said.

In addition to seeking at least an environmental assessment for the permits, the plaintiffs want the court to issue a preliminary injunction to halt uses related to current permits and to stop the state from issuing new ones until the assessments are completed, said Collins.

A spokeswoman for the DLNR on Wednesday afternoon referred all questions about the lawsuit to the state attorney general.

Na Papa’i Wawae ‘Ula’ula is a hui of West Maui residents dedicated to protecting and enhancing shoreline access for the public and for Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices.

* Lee Imada can be reached at

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