Park 'n' pay


POSTED: Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The popular Makapuu Lighthouse trail has become a controversial part of the Recreational Renaissance bill making its way through the state Legislature.




Recreational Renaissance bill

        » Senate Bill 636: Fortifies the recreational renaissance program of the DLNR through various amendments to state law, including charging user fees for up to eight state parks in its financial plan.

        » Status: Recommended for passage on third reading from the House Finance Committee.



The locations

        DLNR is looking at charging user fees at eight signature parks:

» Makapuu Point Lighthouse, Oahu
        » Nuuanu Pali, Oahu
        » Waimea Canyon/Kokee State Park, Kauai
        » Haena State Park, Kauai
        » Makena State Park, Maui
        » Iao Valley State Monument, Maui
        » Kehaka Kai State Park, Big Island
        » Akaka Falls State Recreation Area, Big Island
        Source: Department of Land and Natural Resources




Senate Bill 636 proposes charging user fees for a list of parks throughout Hawaii that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources wants to collect to fund improvements over five years.

It would be similar to the fees in place for Diamond Head and Hanauma Bay, but only nonresidents would be charged.

The DLNR's goal is to raise $240 million ($40 million in general obligation bonds and $200 million in reimbursable bonds) to improve state parks, small boat harbors and hiking trails.

The Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, however, has taken a stance against the bill and has asked the state to remove Ka Iwi — more popularly known as the Makapuu Lighthouse trail — from the plan.

Board Chairman Greg Knudsen said the problem is that the bill's language allows the state to make improvements including pavilions, cabins and concession facilities, leaving the door wide open for a developer to come in later. The commercialization of Ka Iwi would also drive out local use.

“;If the state can build cabins, that would be undermining a 30-year community effort to keep that area open,”; said Knudsen.

The board also says the attendance at Makapuu won't make enough for needed improvements. Based on a 2007 Hawaii Tourism Authority survey, Ka Iwi visitors totaled 251,400 annually — combining the 183,100 who go to the Makapuu lookout with 68,300 who go up the lighthouse trail.

But only about 29,400 nonresidents go to the lighthouse trail annually.

If each nonresident was charged an average of $1.50, the fees would bring in less than $45,000 a year, about half of what it would cost to hire an attendant to collect the fees.

“;It's bad math, bad economics, and just all around it is not thought through,”; said Knudsen.

But DLNR director Laura Thielen said the state needs to make much-needed improvements to the Makapuu trail so that the U.S. Coast Guard can maintain the lighthouse, as well as make the lookout platform compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act as legally required, at an estimated $4 million.

Right now a series of stairs lead up to the lookout point above the lighthouse.

“;I have provided multiple assurances that there are no intentions to build cabins there,”; Thielen said. In addition, she said DLNR is proposing that Ka Iwi be placed under the state conservation district, declaring it a scenic wilderness area.

Park entry fees are a common and time-tested national means to raise funds supporting the operation of parks, Thielen said in her testimony. The charges also could help reduce vehicle break-ins, graffiti and vandalism.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources must, however, approve where and how much the park user fees will be.

“;Clearly, given the fiscal situation, the state must choose between entry fees or closing (state) parks,”; said Thielen, “;as the department simply cannot continue to operate 69 parks and park reserves with the projected 20 percent budget reduction in the upcoming biennium.”;

The state has an operating budget of $102,815 for this year, she said, and about $78,000 for capital improvements per park per year.

Knudsen said the board's main objection is with including Ka Iwi in the bill, but he also testified that charging fees for places like the Pali Lookout would “;nickel and dollar”; visitors at a time when tourist numbers are down.

Besides park user fees, the bill proposes increases to boat slip fees, charging those who live in their boats additional fees, and developing a 119-acre light industrial park at Keehi Lagoon.