Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino is seeking to halt commercial activities, such as guided snorkeling tours and windsurfing instruction, Sundays and holidays at county beach parks as a way to “bring back local days at our beaches.”
“Our residents are feeling very pressured, even when they go to their beaches, they feel like they are pressured because they can’t get on their beaches because it is inundated by commercial activities and as well as tourists using our beaches,” he said Thursday on “Insights on PBS Hawai’i,” which covered various topics affecting Hawaii’s mayors. Victorino was one of the state’s four county mayors who were guests on the program.
Victorino said he will ask the Maui County Council to consider proposed amendments to the Commercial Ocean Recreational Activities (CORA) permits to eliminate Sundays and holidays as permitted operational days for activities such as surfing, windsurfing and kite boarding instruction and snorkeling and scuba tours.
“They (will still) have well over 300 days a year to use our beaches,” he said of the activity companies on the show. “We all got to take (a) stand. . . . We have to manage our resources.”
Maui County Communications Director Brian Perry said the Department of Parks and Recreation expects to be ready for a public hearing on the proposed administrative changes in the next month or two.
Currently, 95 CORA permits have been issued, and the parks department said Monday afternoon that not all permit holders and beach parks will be affected because some permit holders do not have activities on Sundays.
Of the 17 permitted areas, 14 already do not allow permit holders to operate on Sundays, according to information on the county’s website. The three sites that do allow activities Sundays are Kanaha Beach Park, Ulua/Mokapu Beach Park in South Maui and Wailea Beach Park.
Hanakao’o Beach Park had been the only county park in West Maui allowing commercial activity on Sundays, but all commercial activity was banned on July 5.
The bill for the change advocated by Council Member Tamara Paltin drew widespread support from paddlers, who said Hanakao’o was the last place they had to practice and race on the west side.
Under the mayor’s proposal, all activities would be prohibited on holidays. Currently, some commercial activity already is prohibited on certain holidays, depending on the beach park. At Hana Bay Beach Park, for example, every county holiday is already off-limits for commercial activity.
There were mixed reviews about the proposed Sunday and holiday changes from industry officials Monday.
“The administration’s got to look at the big picture. The big picture is residents like to participate in activities just as much as tourists like to participate in activities,” said Jeff Strahn, general manager at Maui Dive Shop.
He said the company likes to be good stewards to the community. He noted that when locals take lessons and classes it is on the weekends.
Maui Dive Shop Director of Operations Greg Shepherd said he is OK with not having clearance to conduct business on holidays, but “the Sunday will hurt us.” They hold dives off Ulua Beach, where Sunday activity currently is permitted.
There are benefits to having commercial activites on the beach, he noted. Their workers are another set of eyes and ears when it comes to emergencies. They also carry first aid kits and lend assistance to anyone in need, “not only for our clients, anyone on our beach,” he said.
Patti Cadiz, a worker at HST Windsurfing & Kitesurfing School in Kahului, said there needs to be more clarity with “which part of the resource” local people actually are using. For their kitesurfing and windsurfing clients at Kanaha, they basically need a parking place and a point to access the water. They do not use the park’s pavilions or picnic grounds, where families may be, Cadiz said.
If there are fisherman nearby, the school stays away from them to prevent getting tangled in lines, she added.
Windsurfing already is prohibited under the permit Sundays at Kanaha.
Cadiz said that she hasn’t seen any problems between the general public and commercial activities at the beach. She said she could only speak to Kanaha where HST has its permits.
Cadiz also questioned the enforcement of nonpermit holders who conduct unlawful commercial activities at beaches.
Toni Marie Davis, executive director of Activities & Attractions Association of Hawaii, said she understands and supports Victorino on initiating the change but also touts the permit holders as good for the community.
“Over-tourism is making headlines, as residents are taking to the streets in places like Venice, Barcelona, Indonesia and Ireland. These places have hit a tipping point as their sense of community and identity is being lost. We should watch them and learn from their successes and failures. No one wants this for Maui,” said Davis, who oversees the nonprofit trade association.
CORA operators are not large, Mainland companies, she said. They are small and locally owned, follow rules and pay taxes. They also are the ones with local knowledge and guide people to enjoy activities safely.
Davis warns about the “new entrants” into the activity tour business and asked the county to enforce laws and rules and to eliminate the “scofflaw.”
The parks department said that enforcement efforts are increasing with staffing and training levels.
“Enforcement is being handled the same with permitted and unpermitted activities,” according to Perry. “Anyone found not to be in compliance is subject to enforcement action.
“There are currently approximately three citations pending for illegal CORA activity. As the department seeks compliance, it is anticipated citation numbers could rise.”
Perry said the department believes that compliance initially begins with education. When the county is unable to attain compliance, the county proceeds to enforcement.
Pamela Tumpap, president of Maui Chamber of Commerce, said it is important to discuss new options with growing residents’ concerns about heightened visitor activity and the impact on the community.
“We also recognize that permitted operators help to keep visitors safe, direct them to the most efficient ways in and out of the ocean, educate them and keep them in the best areas to make the least impact on the beaches,” she said. “By excluding CORA operators on those days, it may bring about new challenges if visitors then choose to do those types of activities in those areas by themselves.”
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.