LIHUE, Hawaii (KITV4) -- A bill awaiting signature on Gov. Josh Green's desk would impact businesses that need ocean recreation permits.
House bill 1090 HD1 SD1 CD1 changes how the state land department issues new permits, or renews current ones. It could make it harder to get a new permit, and there are many businesses worried they won't get a chance to renew - which would put them out of business.
Nate Fisher, the owner of boating tour company Na Pali Experience, said, "This bill would be heartbreaking if it passes. It will disrupt and dismantle a ton of local businesses."
The bill affects ocean recreation management areas and facilities where there is a permit limit. It bases permit renewal on seniority, until the limit is reached. If there are too many permits, the state decides who keeps theirs. Or as Fisher understands it: "Each harbor has a permit limit. At one point they [the state] overissued, so we don't know who is over that limit. There's a lot of question marks."
The backstory, according to Meghan Statts, Deputy Administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, is that "HB1090 was introduced to give the Department options for issuing commercial use permits in areas where the number of commercial use permits would be reduced due to overuse, i.e. the manta rules for Hawai'i Island. In the past, the Department did not have the authority to deny the issuance of commercial use permits unless it was specified in rule.
"In 2014, the Department engaged in rulemaking to set limits on commercial use permits for the State small boat harbors and launch ramps. When people heard about the new rules, there was a run on permits and the Department could not deny the issuance of the permits because the rules were not finalized. The proposed limits were quickly exceeded and past practice was to reduce the number of commercial permits by attrition. The issue with attrition is that the vast majority of businesses are incorporated, so the business is usually sold and the permits transfer with the business; attrition is basically non-existent.
"HB1090 also addresses areas where the current commercial permits exceed the limits in rule. This was primarily done to address the numerous complaints being received by the Legislature and Department regarding to over commercialization of the State’s near shore waters and public facilities. In these types of situations, permits will first be issued to the longest standing businesses and once the limit is reached, the remaining permits will not be reissued."
Statts assures Fisher and his contemporaries, "If the House bill is approved, the Division will work to come up with a plan to work with all affected commercial operators statewide."
But Fisher is frustrated. He says he speaks for a hui, or group, of about 18 commercial operators on Kauai's northwest coast, most of whom would be shuttered or severely impacted without a permit to operate.
"We have legally issued permits. We pay taxes. We've done everything by the book. It would be heartbreaking to see some of these people, who've done everything right, by the book, and watch them disappear," Fisher said, pointing out the ripple effect on the island. His area alone employs 100 or 200 people.
The Governor's office says this, and all, bills are undergoing a thorough legal and fiscal review plus the Governor's own assessment. Green has until July 11 to sign or veto it. If he intends to veto, he has to tell the Legislature by June 26, and deliver the veto by July 11.
"If you're watching, Governor, I hope you'd think hard and long about how many people this would affect," implored Fisher. It's a measure, he predicts, that would leave his and his ilk high and dry.