A Honolulu City Council committee approved a public hearing for a bill that will increase fines for people who illegally enter watershed areas.
Under current law, trespassers are fined between $10 and $600 with the possibility of serving up to six months of prison time.
Bill 45 would increase those fines to between $500 and $2,000. The possible prison time would remain the same.
The Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which manages many of the public areas that supply water to Oahu residents, supports the increases in fines to deter hikers from trespassing through the watersheds.
While there are “no trespassing” signs at the entry to the areas, Raelyn Nakabayashi with the Board of Water Supply, explained that trespassers usually ignore such signage.
“No one takes the signs seriously,” she said. “They feel entitled to trespass even with the signage posted and the warnings that are issued.”
At Haiku Stairs, one of the most popular illegal hiking sites, Nakabayashi said the Board of Water Supply has employed special duty police officers and private security guards since August 2017. The Honolulu Police Department issued 9,000 warnings and 55 citations and arrested one person in that area alone.
One of the biggest concerns with trespassers is that they can pollute the watersheds.
Waihe’e Tunnel, a water source managed by Board of Water, is near the Waihe’e waterfall and Hamama waterfall, both of which attract hikers who enter the area illegally.
“The Waihe’e tunnel is the largest tunnel fed water source for the windward side of the island,” Nakabayashi said. “If people were able to get in to do anything nefarious or malicious to this water source, we’d really be endangering many, many residents on that side of the island.”
Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer at the Board of Water, said the agency is currently looking at conducting an environmental assessment of Waihe’e to safely allow access to the area.
“We are looking at a long-term solution and, maybe working with the community, to allow people to get access, but in a way that’s respectful, that helps to further education on environmental stewardship," he said.
A public hearing on the bill will be scheduled in coming weeks.
CORRECTION: Waiheʻe tunnel is the largest tunnel fed water source for the windward side of the island. A previous version of this story left out the second "tunnel" in Raelyn Nakabayashi's comment.