Honolulu begins community meetings to decide which businesses should operate at city parks without a permit

Published  6:30 PM HST Sep 17, 2012
Rainbow Scuba Magic Island
HONOLULU -

The passage of two bills (Bill 5 and Bill 11) that restricted or banned commercial activity at Kailua and Kalama beach parks, has also created the need for a permitting structure at 288 city parks across Oahu.

Four community meetings being held throughout the week will help the city determine which business activities residents would welcome at their local parks without the need for a permit.

“Some communities may not want kayaking, some communities may want kayaking,” said Parks and Recreation Director Gary Cabato, whose office is in charge of conducting the meetings.

The first meeting Monday is being held at Kilauea District Park, where city officials expect to hear from residents who live in the area from Ala Moana to Sandy Beach. Other meetings will be held at Waialua District Park on Tuesday, Kaneohe District Park on Wednesday and Waianae District Park on Thursday. All of the meetings are scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, some small businesses are questioning the need for the city to create a permitting scheme, since they’ve been operating at city parks for years without major problems or complaints.

Hawaii Boat Charters, LLC, which operates as Rainbow Scuba, has been using the Magic Island lagoon at Ala Moana Beach Park for the past 17 years.

“If you look around, it's obviously being used more recreationally than commercially,” said Nathan Brown, a Rainbow Scuba instructor. “I think if there were people here just overrunning it with commercial and business interests, than that'd be one thing, but I think it's a bit ludicrous.”

Once the city compiles testimony from all four community meetings, Cabato will analyze which business activities could be exempt from obtaining a permit at city parks. He said under the current parameters of the law, even pot luck fund-raisers or chili sales are not allowed.

“It could be different for each park,” said Cabato. “As part of the process, if they are OK with (certain) activities, than we'll promulgate rules (and) it becomes a standard everyone can follow.”

However, even more worrisome than the drafting of new rules, is the potential cost to taxpayers. After determining which commercial activities are allowed to obtain permits at certain parks, an environmental assessment must be performed to determine the potential impact to an area.

“The average cost for one EA can range anywhere from $50,000 all the way up to $200,000,” said Cabato. “It depends on the scope of the EA.”

Cabato adds that some EA’s will identify the need for a full-blown environmental impact statement, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional money.

The city is hoping entire regions on Oahu can be studied under a single environmental assessment, but there’s no guarantee. That means even on the low-end estimate, if every park requires a separate EA at $50,000 apiece, it would cost the city at least $14.4 million.

As far as Kailua and Kalama beach parks are concerned, Cabato believes he will go straight into an EIS for those areas, since residents have already identified direct impacts because of commercial ventures.

“The infrastructure, the roads, the neighborhood,” said Cabato, “So there's a significant impact just on the surface. I'm not an engineer, but just the lay person can figure that out.”

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