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Ban on commercial activities at beach park becomes law

Businesses await word from county on a new location for operations

Tamara Paltin

Grateful youth paddlers broke into an oli mahalo after the Maui County Council passed a bill on Friday banning commercial activity at Hanakaoo Beach Park.

The bill became law the same day after Mayor Michael Victorino signed it following the 7-0 council vote.

Introduced by Council Member Tamara Paltin, the bill drew widespread support among paddlers who said Hanakaoo was the last place they had to practice and race on the west side.

“We always asking . . . ‘How we going support the tourism industry? How we going help these businesses?’ ” said Mike Tihada of Napili Canoe Club. “Growing up hearing that all our lives, frustrating. Do something for the community. Do something for the people who live here.”

At least one operator said Friday that he was happy to give the clubs their space, but hoped the county Department of Parks and Recreation could find a solution for the businesses.

MICHAEL VICTORINO, Urges businesses to adjust

“I think this was the right thing to do to give (the clubs) Hanakaoo,” said Mike Przetak, owner and operator of Maui Scuba Mike. “I think they should have their park, and we should have our park, and there is definitely enough space for everybody. The county just has to . . . give us a couple parks instead of just closing them all down.”

In recent months, tensions have come to a head between canoe clubs, who’ve been pushed out of their original beaches by hotels and development, and commercial operators, who say Hanakaoo offers the most consistent conditions for divers on the west side.

Divers say they’ve been harassed; paddlers say they’re just defending their turf. Operators have voluntarily stayed away for months because of the disputes.

Now with the passage of the new law, they’re looking for another place to go.

At Hanakaoo, commercial operators needed a permit from the county to use the park and another from the state to access the ocean. Parks Director Karla Peters said there are four businesses with county permits at Hanakaoo — Maui Scuba Mike, Extended Horizons, Lahaina Divers and Maui Kayaks. Their permits expired on Sunday.

Peters said Friday that “the department is in the process of reviewing the permitted parks and will be working with the permit holders who held permits at Hanakaoo.” She said there are “several alternate locations in West Maui,” and that the department was reviewing the bill.

Extended Horizons owner Erik Stein said Friday that he’s waiting for word. Stein requested Ukumehame but said the county told him the beach was not for scuba diving.

“The council suggested we travel to Kihei, but there’s nothing that’s feasible for us at this point,” said Stein, whose business is based in Lahaina. “There’s nothing that you could safely take a class of beginners on a dive. I need a calm water with a big entry where you can stand up.”

Extended Horizons has been operating at Hanakaoo since 1983 and usually takes out groups of four or fewer, Stein said. During the busier summer months, they go about twice a week. Some months, they don’t go at all. Stein said they’ve stopped going since April because of the conflicts with paddlers.

Przetak of Maui Scuba Mike said he’s been offered Papalaua and is also waiting for the department to make a decision. He said he has permits for Ulua Beach and a state permit that allows him to go to places that don’t require county park access. However, Hanakaoo provides “calm, clear, safe waters” where Przetak can take divers when the conditions are poor elsewhere.

Maui Scuba Mike has been using Hanakaoo for the last 25 years or so. Przetak, who’s the sole full-time employee along with an occasional part-time worker, said he never takes more than four people on a dive at a time. He said he hasn’t gone diving there since early June and supported setting the beach aside solely for paddlers.

Przetak said he used to take divers to places like Puamana and Launiupoko, but the county banned commercial activity there without offering a replacement.

“There is no real problem if this is correctly managed,” he said. “The problem is chasing us all into one corner to where we’re stepping on each other’s toes.”

Like Maui Scuba Mike, Lahaina Divers is looking at Papalaua as an alternative, but General Manager Tim Means said “that’s not diveable most of the summer, and that’s our busy season.”

“I drive by there virtually every day, and for the last two weeks, it hasn’t been diveable at all because of the south swell,” Means said.

Lahaina Divers has been operating at Hanakaoo since 1978, usually taking groups of about four to eight divers, Means said. As the county has gone from requiring no permits to requiring permits for every activity — sometimes at $1,000 each — Lahaina Divers has shed most of its permits for parks that were either too far away or didn’t have consistent conditions. Hanakaoo was the only permit they kept. Means said the next-best spot might be Wahikuli.

In the meantime, Lahaina Divers will need to find other places that don’t require county permits.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources won’t need to change its permits with the new law, but operators still need to get permission or right of entry to access state waters, said Paul Sensano, Maui Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation District Manager.

In response to complaints from paddlers about the lack of buoys that are supposed to set the boundaries between everyday beachgoers and commercial operators, Sensano said that “a private contractor hired by the state will be going out to bid to replace and maintain the buoys.

“The buoy maintenance program for the Maui District is handled by Maui DOBOR. Of the 14 buoys, all have been displaced and noted as off station,” Sensano said.

Victorino said Friday that there are other beaches available to the businesses, and while they may not be as ideal as Hanakaoo, “I think they can make adjustments.”

“Like anything else, change comes, and we are wanting to make the change positive,” Victorino said. “Not impact them adversely, but to make them understand that we the people, the residents, should have that opportunity to enjoy the beach.”

He added that the county will be “looking at other beaches and make some changes there, too.

“But more importantly, I think the public needs to have that security that their beaches belong to them, and when they have regattas and all these other events that they have first option to use the beach versus the visitors,” Victorino said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.