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Kuau landowner fined $60K over shoreline violations

Company must also install sand berms as part of agreement with county

Kuau Cove Properties, the landowner of Mama’s Fish House, reached an agreement with Maui County to pay a $60,000 fine for violations that involved placing sand along the shoreline without a permit. The Maui News file photo

Kuau Cove Properties, the landowner of Mama’s Fish House, will pay the county a $60,000 fine and conduct a project expected to cost upwards of $165,000 to resolve violations that occurred on the shoreline fronting the restaurant in 2019.

The fine and project are part of a resolution agreement between the county and Kuau Cove Properties that was amended and approved by the Maui Planning Commission last week.

Kuau Cove Properties was issued notices of violation on June 13, 2019, for actions including placing sand without a permit in the shoreline area.

A $25,000 fine was originally proposed by the Planning Department in the resolution agreement, but the commission after much discussion settled on a $60,000 fine. There was support among some commissioners and testifiers to set the fine at $120,000, which would have been the original total for the two notices of violation. Some testifiers wanted the higher fine to discourage similar behavior in the future, saying that the proposed lower fine was too little and that these types of settlements often benefit the violator.

Shoreline activist Kai Nishiki said “there is good reason” for setting large fines for violations in special management areas along the shoreline, as they contain “extremely sensitive areas.”

Mama’s Fish House is shown in September 2020. Kuau Cove Properties, which owns the land that the restaurant is built on, has agreed to pay the county a fine for shoreline violations and install sand berms to address erosion while still allowing access to the ocean. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“We have a finite amount of land, and even less land in the SMA and shoreline area,” Nishiki wrote to the commission. “Some of the things violators do are irreversible, so we need to make sure each one of these fines count and mean something in order to deter others from doing similar damage.”

The coastline fronting the property has undergone seasonal wave inudations leading to erosion and scouring to the extent that there is a vertical clay embankment that drops off, approximately two to three feet, creating potentially unsafe conditions, the Planning Department told the commission in a memorandum. To address the concern, Kuau Cove Properties placed sand in the shoreline area.

Floyd Christenson of Kuau Cove Properties and Mama’s Fish House told commissioners it was “an honest mistake.” He said a longtime maintenance worker who placed the sand on the shoreline cried when he told Christenson about it.

But, Christenson told commissioners, “it is my responsibility.”

Following the commission’s lengthy review and approval of the agreement, Christenson said he would accept the higher fine and noted it is “not a dollar and cents thing to me” but “it’s (about) doing right, I think.”

Kuau Cove Properties and its consultants have prepared plans in collaboration with the Planning Department’s shoreline planners and the University of Hawaii Sea Grant extension agent to install three vegetated sand berms in the shoreline area to fill the embankment but still allow ready access to the ocean, according to the memorandum. The project would require shoreline and special management area approvals.

It’s projected to cost $165,000 to $240,000, including ongoing maintenance.

The Planning Department said that because the project will have direct public benefits and will require ongoing maintenance and restoration, the department believed that a reduction in fines was appropriate so that funding could be directed toward implementation of the project.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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