Maui residents seek legal action over crowded boat harbor they believe is bombarded with tourists

KITV Mala Wharf, a small boat harbor on Maui's west shore, is considered culturally significant to Native Hawaiians.
KITV Mala Wharf, a small boat harbor on Maui's west shore, is considered culturally significant to Native Hawaiians.

KITV4 | Apr 7, 2022

By ‘A’ali’i Dukelow

LAHAINA, Maui (KITV4) – Mala Wharf, a small boat harbor on Maui’s west shore, is considered culturally significant to Native Hawaiians.

Once a fishing village, the area remains a popular fishing spot for local residents who say the harbor has become inundated with tourists over recent years, largely thanks to social media promoting it as an ideal snorkeling site.

“You’ll have people that are parasailing, you have boat tours, you have snorkeling, you have scuba divers,” said Maui native Tiare Lawrence, who frequents the wharf with her family. “I took my son this last Sunday, and we couldn’t even cast our line because where we like to go was just, you know, tourists everywhere.”

Lawrence also runs cultural programs at the wharf, taking kids on Hawaiian voyaging canoes.

“We’ve had situations where we’ll launch our canoes, we don’t have trailer parking because all the commercial operators consume all of the trailer parking,” Lawrence added.

“We show up, there’s no parking because all the rental cars are taking up all the parking.”

Lawrence argues the overcrowding infringes on her rights as a Native Hawaiian to practice customary traditions, such as fishing and canoe paddling.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources has granted commercial permits to 16 companies for Mala Wharf.

One permit-holder is private charter company owner Woody Woodward, who said all operators are respectful of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and act as stewards of the area, often hosting clean ups.

“It’s sad, really, it’s gotten to this point I think us original 16, we try to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, and that’s the whole part, that’s what people want to see and we’ve been doing that. It’s unfortunate we have a target on our back,” Woodward said.

Woodward and Lawrence agree there are are too many unpermitted commercial operators there — and little to no enforcement.

Lawrence is seeking legal action. Her attorney Christina Lizzi says the DLNR’s commercial permits do not limit how often or how long operators can use the ramp.

“So they’re basically given a permit, and then they have free reign on what to do down there,” Lizzi said. “One of the problems here is that the agency is issuing these permits, without really looking at all the laws it’s supposed to when it does.”

Lizzi added the DLNR has repeatedly denied her clients’ requests for contested case hearings since they began filing for them in July 2021.

There are currently two outstanding appeals in court, and Lizzi expects the final ruling to come down by June.

DLNR decline to comment due to the pending litigation.

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