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Helicopter Company Fined for Unpermitted Structures Near Hanap?p? Salt Ponds

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
The salt ponds in Hanapepe, Kaua'i, are one of the few remaining areas where traditional salt farming is practiced in Hawai'i.

A Kaua?i helicopter company is facing fines of up to $10,000 a day for structures that lack permits on its property in Port Allen. The tour company’s initial request for the Kaua?i County permits was met with strong opposition from traditional salt makers who practice in nearby Hanap?p?.

Maverick Helicopters is appealing the county’s order to remove the structures that were erected without approval at Kaua?i’s Port Allen Airport. The company declined to comment on whether it plans to take down the structures, which include a bathroom, an office trailer, and two shipping containers.

Traditional Hawaiian saltmaker Malia Nobrega says she’s happy Kaua?i County is enforcing its planning and zoning laws but she wonders if anything will change.  

NOBREGA: E kakali ana m?kou e ?ike in? e loli ana kekahi mea. E ?ike in? e ho?ok? ?ia ana ka ??lelo a ke County e loa?a k?ia k?k?. A in? ?a?ole e m?kaukau ana.

Nobrega said she’s waiting to see if the county actually levies the fines. If not, she says she and her group of traditional saltmakers, known as the Hui Hana Pa?akai, plan to seek legal help.

“We have been battling with the helicopter companies for I can't even remember how many years it's been,” says Ku?uleialoha Santos, a third-generation saltmaker at Hanap?p?.

Nearly two dozen families practice in salt patches about a quarter mile from the airport. The Hanap?p? Salt Ponds are one of the very few remaining areas where traditional salt farming is practiced in Hawai?i.

Operations at Port Allen Airport began in 1929. There’s been no comprehensive environmental assessment conducted to identify any impacts on the salt makers from the airport activity.

“When I was little, we had no fences around or nothing that needed to protect the area because there wasn't as much traffic or as much people or as much dust or as much helicopters,” says Santos. “So all those kinds of things are affecting us.”

Cultural practitioners say the airport’s pollution, noise, and chemical runoff have been longstanding issues.

Kaua?i state Rep. Dee Morikawa, whose district includes Hanap?p?, says she shares the salt makers concerns.

In an emailed statement to HPR, Rep. Morikawa said: "Impact studies should have been made before expanding use at the airport.  Perhaps proper permitting of helicopter improvements would have warranted that. For years seepage and drainage from agricultural use and waste generated from the Salt Pond Beach Park could have negatively impacted the salt beds, but we don’t have studies to show that."

Back in June, the Kaua?i Planning Commission approved the saltmakers’ request for a contested case hearing after more than 80 people testified against Maverick Helicopters’ permit request.

NOBREGA: Ke ho???o nei e ho?oholo i k?ia mau mea li?ili?i, ak? he mea nui. No ka mea ?a?ole makemake m?kou e kali ho?okahi makahiki a ho?omaka k?ia contested case hearing.

Nobrega says the Hanap?p? saltmakers group is trying to do everything it can to avoid waiting another year to address these matters.

No date has been set for the hearing, which could take up to a year to schedule.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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