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Molokini tour boat limits, Manele harbor privatization vetoed

The Maui News

Two bills with a direct Maui County connection — that would have limited tour boats at Molokini and allowed for private management of Manele Small Boat Harbor on Lanai — were vetoed Tuesday by Gov. David Ige.

House Bill 1133 would have limited the number of commercial use permits for the Molokini Marine Life Conservation District to no more than 40 and prohibited the Department of Land and Natural Resources from issuing new permits. It also would have limited access at any given time to 50 percent of the current number of permit holders.

In his veto message, Ige said that the measure is “unnecessary” because the DLNR already limits the number of permits to 40. In addition, the bill’s calling for limiting access to Molokini to 50 percent of the current number of permits at any given time “is actually counterproductive to DLNR’s efforts to address overcrowding.”

He noted that DLNR is in the process of working with commercial permit holders to adjust operating schedules to coordinate access to better manage the impact of commercial activity at Molokini.

Within the past year, DLNR floated the idea of limiting tour boats to about a dozen at any given time, pointing to studies showing visitor overcrowding and fish displacement. Commercial operators balked at the low number, especially because time in the crater is already restricted by weather, and questioned the DLNR data. They took their concerns to the state Legislature.

Tour companies supported House Bill 1133. DLNR opposed the measure, saying the administrative rule process would be preferable to a legislative solution.

West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey said that he was “very disappointed” that his bill was vetoed and that the Legislature should set the rules for Molokini.

“Policy should be set by the Legislature to allow for public input and transparency and not by the DLNR which chooses to hold limited public hearings and arbitrarily decide what standards to use,” he said Tuesday in a news release. “We are not in the business of cutting off the public from government. While there are concerns about the size of boats under the current permit system, nothing in this measure prohibits the DLNR from addressing this issue in rules pursuant to the statute being passed, as it should be.”

He said the measure would have been good for the environment and businesses and would have benefited tourism “by making a visit to the shoal a better experience for visitors.”

McKelvey applauded the veto of the other Maui County measure, the Manele Small Boat Harbor pilot project. House Bill 1032 would have established a state boating facility lease pilot program within the DLNR to be implemented and managed by the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. DLNR would have been able to lease Manele Small Boat Harbor for private development, management and operation.

Ige said that the DLNR had sought general authorization for a public-private partnership of small-boat harbors but that the measure ended up designating only Manele as a pilot program without public input.

McKelvey said the measure “would have paved the way for private ownership of the state-run Manele harbor.”

“It is imperative that this public resource remains in the public’s hands and that any private/public models be pursued in other areas where they have more support of the community through extensive dialogue,” he said.

Ige had until Tuesday to veto, sign or let bills become law without his signature. The governor earlier had signaled his intent to veto both the Molokini and Manele harbor measures.