The state is seeking up to $542,950 in penalties for a Makena charter boat business for damaging 538 specimens of coral in Makena Bay last year.
A state report said Makena Boat Partners allegedly violated state rules when its Kai Kanani, a 46-foot wood hull catamaran, dropped anchor on a coral reef fronting the Maui Prince Hotel from July through Aug. 24, 2007.
The case against Makena Boat Partners and its general partners, Kai Kanani Inc. and Maalaea Boat Sales and Charters Inc., is scheduled to be heard at a Board of Land and Natural Resources meeting at 9 a.m. Friday in Honolulu.
"We do not believe the state has the facts right," said Dennis Niles, a former Maui-based attorney representing Makena Boat Partners.
"As much as we would like to present our side of the case through the media, the appropriate way to do it is through the administrative process," he said.
But he objected to the state trying to punish his clients again as they were prosecuted through the criminal courts a year ago in connection with the same incident.
According to a report to the land board, Makena Boat Partners pled no contest to criminal penalties and paid a $200 fine for the Kai Kanani anchor site stony coral violation last year.
"We feel the Constitution does not allow the state two bites of the apple," Niles said.
As for the penalty, Niles said that when the state seeks a punishment with "fines of this magnitude," the right to a jury trial comes into play as well as other legal rights.
Last month, Maui Snorkel Charters Inc., which does business as Maui Dive Shop, agreed to pay nearly $397,000 for damaging coral within the Molokini Shoal Marine Life Conservation District in 2006.
Last year, Crystal Seahorse Ltd., operator of the Shangri-La snorkel tour boat, agreed to a $7,300 settlement with the board for illegally entering the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve and damaging stony coral heads with an anchor in 2005.
DLNR Chairwoman Laura Thielen said in an e-mail that her department is "making it a priority" to protect coral, which is an "important but vulnerable natural resource."
"Hawaii statutes and regulations have long protected coral reefs, but historically these laws have been underutilized by the department," she said. "As reefs are under increasing stresses from a variety of sources - including land-based pollutants, invasive species and direct trauma from vessels such as in the case of the Kai Kanani - the department is making it a priority to protect this important but vulnerable natural resource."
Thielen said that in her department's survey of the reef at Makena Bay, it appears that in this case with the Kai Kanani, the damage covers up to 910 square meters of coral habitat and up to 538 specimens of coral, although further investigation is under way.
The board could fine Makena Boat Partners up to $1,000 per specimen of stony coral broken or damaged, she said.
Stony corals are living invertebrate species that are native to Hawaii, the report from the DLNR's Division of Aquatic Resources said.
The report said the violation occurred when Makena Boat Partners relocated the Kai Kanani from a permitted mooring to an unpermitted anchor site and in the process damaged valuable coral habitat.
Despite the defendant being cited and ordered to move the vessel Aug. 1, 2007, it was not relocated until Aug. 24, the report said.
The Division of Aquatic Resources is requesting a fine for killing and injuring the coral, as well as charging $1,000 for each coral damaged resulting in $539,000 in fines and $3,950.49 in fees and costs for the total of $542,950.49.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.