By ERIN MILLER
Three kayak rental and tour companies could be back in business in Kealakekua Bay as early as the end of this week.
Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila said the companies’ permits are currently under review, but should be reinstated soon.
“We are easing back into it,” Aila said, adding that has been the plan since announcing the moratorium on kayaks using the historic bay late last year.
Kona Boys, Aloha Kayak and Adventures in Paradise have held the permits to lead kayak tours in the bay for several years. Aila told Stephens Media last month he has heard conflicting reports about how the permits were awarded, with some people claiming illegal vendors chose not to apply for the permits and others saying the illegal vendors were offered, then denied, the chance.
The moratorium went into effect Jan. 2 and was, in part, an effort to crack down on illegal kayak vendors renting the vessels to tourists at the state park. Aila said enforcement officers cited one kayaker for violating the moratorium.
The bay won’t be open to recreational kayakers just yet, though. Aila said the department is still working on an online permitting program for those kayakers.
DLNR hasn’t decided just how it will help the illegal vendors make a transition to legality.
The illegal vendors could easily earn $50,000 a year apiece, a figure on which they are not taxed and from which the DLNR receives no fees, Aila said.
“There has been dialogue,” Aila said. “The solution to their problems, we’re still analyzing.”
More people have been taking the trail from Napoopoo Road to the Captain Cook Monument since the state closed the bay. Aila said the department is now considering a permit process for hikers as well.
“We certainly need to get a handle for use of Kaawaloa,” Aila said, adding the department especially needs to get restrooms down there.
Aila, leading up to the moratorium and during it, has consistently declined to discuss specifics of enforcement at the bay. He said Friday he expects to keep using the department’s enforcement officers at the bay but said the department still does not have the funding to station a permanent ranger at the park.
The indefinite closure came after more than a decade of conflicting uses and illegal kayak vendors hanging out at the bay, renting kayaks to tourists but not reporting their earnings. There had been little or no enforcement by the state.
Last month, Aila said drug activity at the bay, people disrespecting the sacred sites at Kaawaloa — across the bay from Napoopoo — and people swimming with dolphins were also concerns the department considered before announcing the closure. The decision was not based, at all, Aila said, on the death of an out-of-state teenager on a kayaking and camping tour at the bay in 2012.
A DLNR spokeswoman said Friday the permitted drift-in boat activity — boats not landing at Kaawaloa — has returned to normal levels.
Kealakekua Bay’s importance as a Hawaiian cultural site dates back several centuries, according to DLNR documents.
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