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Hapuna, an ongoing story

<p>Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, holds a sign for the Hapuna Beach parking lot. PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON FOR NHN</p>

Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, holds a sign for the Hapuna Beach parking lot. PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON FOR NHN

<p>About 45 community members attended the meeting at Hapuna Beach on March 28 to discuss the launch of Hapuna nonresident parking fees that began on April 1. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON FOR NHN)</p>

About 45 community members attended the meeting at Hapuna Beach on March 28 to discuss the launch of Hapuna nonresident parking fees that began on April 1. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON FOR NHN)

In 1999, the Hawaii State legislature asked the Department of Land and Natural Resources to explore transferring oversight of Hapuna Beach State Park to the County of Hawaii, in response to ongoing complaints from residents that the park was poorly maintained.

In 2010, with maintenance still a serious issue, DLNR asked the State Land Board to permit charging nonresident parking fees at high traffic state parks, generating revenue to offset rising costs and reduced legislative funding. This was approved for a number of state parks including Hapuna.

In January of this year, the legislature proposed transferring Hapuna to the county in a bill, SB 457 SD2, initiated by Senators Malama Solomon and Gil Kahele at the urging of Mayor Billy Kenoi. The bill explains: “The legislature finds that the County of Hawaii would be a better steward of this public land than the Department of Land and Natural Resources.”

The bill, strongly supported by attendees of the Waimea Community Association at its February meeting, passed through the Senate but was deferred by the House Water and Land Committee, chaired by Rep. Cindy Evans.

Last week, DLNR officials met with about 45 community members to discuss the launch of Hapuna nonresident parking fees April 1. Representing DLNR were Dan Quinn, state parks administrator, and Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator, who introduced Ben Wesley, manager of Republic Parking, the company contracted to run the parking concession for the first year.

Hawaii residents are not charged for parking; nonresidents pay a $5 per vehicle fee; and commercial tours are charged on a sliding scale, according to the number of passengers, from $10 to $40. Fees are collected at the parking lot entrance.

DLNR has spent approximately $4 million on capital improvement projects at Hapuna since 2004, and the park’s annual operating costs are about $720,000, including more than $450,000 paid to Hawaii County for lifeguards. Nonresident parking fees will offset some of those costs, as does the nominal revenue from the concession stand (not currently in operation but expected to be put out to bid by DLNR again soon) and cabin rentals.

Quinn and Cottrell heard various concerns from community members, including additional traffic and illegal activity at Wailea, congestion at Hapuna’s entry, lack of turn-around space, and potential for restricting public beach access. Cottrell reassured attendees that the nonresident parking fees in no way prohibit people from walking into the beach area, and stated that many mainland parks charge fees, so visitors are accustomed to this practice.

The 13-year-old issue of park maintenance was not on the agenda of this community briefing, although it was brought up by WCA’s Vice President Patti Cook, on behalf of the association.

“Please understand, we are not criticizing the men and women who actually care for the park – it’s a huge job. Our concern is DLNR leadership – or lack of it from Honolulu,” said Cook. “Yes, the parking lot has recently been re-paved but there are still porta-luas lined up in front of the restrooms. Don’t our children and kupuna deserve decent facilities?”

“When it comes to this kind of decision, I as a legislator believe there should be public meetings,” said Evans after Thursday’s meeting. She felt the 165,000 residents from all over the island want to have access to Hapuna for recreation, not just nearby communities, and that the Board of Land and Natural Resources (executive board of DLNR) might wish to have discussions island-wide.

“This won’t be easy for the county to take on,” said Cook. “It’s going to require the community stepping forward to help – a partnership involving the county, community and also the resorts and other businesses that benefit from this extraordinary beach. We all have a stake in this and DLNR leadership in Honolulu has persistently neglected this responsibility.”

For more information about SB457 SD2 and other legislation, visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov. To learn more about DLNR, see www.dlnr.hawaii.gov. To comment on Hapuna’s ongoing story, email your thoughts to: RepEvans@capitol.hawaii.gov, SenSolomon@capitol.hawaii.gov and wkenoi@co.hawaii.hi.us.