Akaka’s bill prohibits commercial tours over isle parks
WAILUKU » U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka has introduced a bill that would prohibit commercial tour operators from flying over three national park areas on the Big Island and Kalaupapa.
Akaka said that in the last few decades the growth of air tourism has considerably interrupted the tranquility of Hawaii's national parks.
"Sacred sites ... are an important resource for the Hawaiian people, and we must do what is necessary to ensure that the value of these sites is not diminished," said Akaka, a ranking member of the Subcommittee on National Parks.
The proposed Hawaiian Sacred Sites Noise Reduction Act of 2006 would apply to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park and Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site on the Big Island, as well as the Kalaupapa settlement on Molokai.
More than 760,000 tourists annually visit the three sites on the Big Island.
Puukohola Heiau, south of Kawaihae Harbor, was the sacred temple built in 1791 by King Kamehameha I before his conquest and consolidation of the Hawaiian Islands, and Puuhonua o Honaunau in Kona is the religious sanctuary where native Hawaiians would flee for refuge.
Geraldine Bell, superintendent of Puuhonua and Kaloko-Honokohau parks, said tour overflights have been a problem, particularly when the park is conducting a program for schoolchildren and visitors or native Hawaiians who are performing a cultural event.
"It's not constant but it is a problem," she said. "It interferes and detracts from the visitor experience."
Bell said three air tour operators applied to the federal government to allow them to fly over the parks but withdrew their request about a year ago.
Daniel Kawaiaea, superintendent of Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, said he supports the bill because it will ensure that noise levels do not exceed current levels at his visitor location.
Kawaiaea said although commercial air tours are following certain flight rules and have generally stayed about a half-mile to a mile from Puukohola, the noise from tour helicopters and airplanes is still audible.
The National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration has been developing an air tour management plan that might limit air tours in certain areas of federal parks in Hawaii.
Air tour operators have followed an informal agreement to keep flights within certain prescribed corridors at Haleakala National Park on Maui, but there is no informal agreement established between tour operators and Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
Patti Chevalier, president of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, said she supports Sen. Akaka's efforts to preserve the tranquility of sacred sites.
"It's unnecessary to overfly these sites," she said.
Akaka spokeswoman said the bill, introduced Thursday, has not been assigned to a committee, but would likely be sent to the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.