National park will challenge landing pad proposal


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park plans to challenge an application for a helicopter landing pad in the former Royal Gardens subdivision, according to the Hawaii County Planning Department.

County Planner Jeff Darrow said the park notified the county it has completed the form for a contested case hearing regarding Paradise Helicopters’ proposal but is working on paying the $200 fee.

“They called and told us their intent to submit,” he said. “They are just trying to work out” payment.

The park has until Jan. 3, a week before the Windward Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the company’s special permit application, to submit the form and pay the fee, he said.

Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane didn’t return multiple requests for comment Wednesday.

The park has previously noted its objection to the proposal, which would allow up to four landings a day within 300 feet of its eastern boundary.

In a Nov. 30 letter to the county, the park expressed concerns over increased noise pollution and allowing the flights before it finishes drafting an air tour management plan.

The plan would have jurisdiction over a half-mile buffer outside its boundary.

If contested, the Planning Commission will set a date for the hearing at its Jan. 10 meeting.

The process may take a couple months, Darrow said, and commissioners can appoint a hearings officer to receive testimony on their behalf.

Rob Payesko, Paradise Helicopters’ business development director, said he couldn’t comment on whether the company would continue to seek the permit if it goes to a contested case hearing.

“We’re going to take this process one step at a time,” he said.

The pre-manufactured landing pad would be placed on the site of Jack Thompson’s former home, destroyed by lava last March.

The company had previously landed on the property, with Thompson’s consent, as part of its lava tours over about a year-long period ending a “couple years ago,” Payesko said.

It suspended the landings once the Planning Department requested a special permit to use the property, located in an agricultural district.

In addition to the permit, the company needs the 15-by-15 foot platform since the land has been covered by lava, Payesko said.

Thompson was the last Royal Gardens resident to be evacuated after lava began destroying homes in the 1980s. He still owns the property.

Payesko said the landings would allow customers to walk within viewing distance of active lava flows.

“It’s part of what we bring to the table as a helicopter company is to provide the guests with a different and immersive experience,” he said.

If Thompson’s property isn’t an option, Payesko said the company could seek a landing site farther away from the park.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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