By CHELSEA JENSEN
Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area will be the next Hawaii state park to assess fees that officials say will generate revenue to offset the park’s annual operating costs.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks anticipates the fees will go into effect in about six months — or at the earliest following the Oct. 13 Ford Ironman World Championship Triathlon, said state parks Assistant Administrator Curt Cottrell. Before any fees are assessed, however, some $519,495 will be spent repaving the park’s entire upper and lower parking areas.
“Before we implement any parking fees there, we want to improve the parking areas and even expand parking,” he said, noting the state has completed pavilion and bathroom improvements. “You will see more improvements before fees. … The park will be in good shape.”
Cottrell also said the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area will be the last Hawaii Island state park to assess entry or parking fees. That concurs with the department’s objective to assess fees at two state parks on each island as set forth in its December 2011 report to the 2012 state Legislature.
“Just Hapuna and Akaka Falls, and then we’re done with (Hawaii) Island,” Cottrell said about the possibility of other Big Island state parks assessing fees in the future.
The Hapuna beach parking fees will be the same as the $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian entry fees collected at Akaka Falls State Park since December 2010, he said. Commercial vehicles, those that carry a Hawaii Public Utilities Commission license, will also pay the same $10 for up to seven passengers; $20 for eight to 25 passengers; and $40 for 26 passengers or more.
Residents, who must show identification, do not pay fees, he emphasized.
The division, which met recently with three interested vendors at the Hapuna park, has not determined how best to collect the fine. He said some ideas include assessing fees when a vehicle enters the park or at a station after parking.
“The main goal is to minimize any disruption to any locals coming in,” he said. “We don’t want them having to wait in a line.”
Cottrell was unable to provide an estimate of revenue for Hapuna, but noted it will offset the $700,000 the state spends annually to operate and provide lifeguard services at the park. He anticipates the revenue will cover most of the $465,785 the state pays Hawaii County annually for lifeguard services.
“We’re not making money,” he said. “We might break even.”
According to the division’s website, just one of the 14 state parks on Hawaii Island currently assesses entry or parking fees. Statewide, only three other sites in the 53-state-park system collect entry or parking fees: Diamond Head State Monument and Nuuanu Pali State Wayside, on Oahu, and Maui’s Iao Valley State Monument, according to the division.
Kauai and Molokai have no state park fees, but Cottrell said the state is moving toward assessing fees at Kokee State Park on Kauai, he said.
Akaka Falls State Park, which has assessed entry fees since December 2010, for the next five years will generate a minimum revenue of $242,700 annually or 70.5 percent of what contract-awardee Makai Parking Management earns, Cottrell said.
Since the fees were enacted, some $2 million in improvements, including walkway and railing work, has been completed. An estimated $350,000 bathroom improvement and water system project is currently under way, Cottrell said.
At the Nuuanu Pali State Wayside, some $300,000 is being generated annually for the state Parks Division. He estimated Diamond Head — the State Parks Division’s highest earner — generates about $900,000 a year.
Money generated at the sites in excess of operating expenses goes into the division’s special fund, which it draws from to maintain and operate its parks throughout the state, Cottrell said.
While some may view the fees being charged as “penny-pinching,” the State Parks Division, in order to sustain current operations, must begin to generate its own revenue or face closures — which has occurred in California, Cottrell said.
Parks need to be self-sustaining considering that the division’s budget has been cut greatly since 1993 — when it had less sites to maintain, Cottrell said. In 1993, the division received $8 million whereas today it receives $3.9 million for the 53 parks statewide, he said.
To be at parity with the amount the division received for its operations in 1993, the budget today would need to be about $12 million, Cottrell said.
“We had never (prior) charged fees even though we reached the point where our budget has been emaciated,” he explained. “But, we’ve got to charge now or face closing parks. … But, in exchange we will make them better.”
Email Chelsea Jensen at email@example.com.