It looks like Kauai's Mina Morita, chair of the Public Utilities Commission, is the target of a political hit.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is suddenly moving to enforce against Morita and her husband, Lance Laney, for operating illegal vacation rentals in Hanalei Valley — just as Gov. Neil Abercrombie is making an unpopular move to dump her as PUC chair.
The investigation was reportedly launched by a 2008 anonymous tip which curiously only now has yielded “new information and evidence that supports this alleged violation claim,” according to a letter by DLNR Director William Aila that was leaked to The Garden Island.
The newspaper also referenced a “draft submittal report expected to be on the agenda for the BLNR’s meeting March 28.” But neither the agenda, nor the the staff reports, are yet posted on the DLNR website, raising the question of who handed the documents to TGI reporter Chris D'Angelo. DLNR did not respond this morning to my requests for the documents.
But it smells of Hanalei River boatyard owner Mike Sheehan. He reportedly is the source of the original “anonymous” complaint, and blasted a December 2013 email in which he made numerous undocumented claims about Mina, including a reference to an "illegal B&B." Mike also funds the ocean “research” of D'Angelo's dive buddy, Terry Lilley. Bizarrely, D'Angelo raises a totally unrelated issue — the 1995 breach of the Hanalei River — by citing an October 2013 letter from Honolulu attorney Les Iczkovitz, who has represented Lilley. To complete the circle, the governor recently appointed Patsy Sheehan, Mike's business partner and ex-wife, to the Hawaiian Homes Commission.
Word has it that Mina was offered the “soft landing” of running the Office of Environmental Quality Control if she agreed to step down as PUC chair. But when Mina declined, Rep. Jessica Wooley was sent instead to the political version of Siberia and another way was found to tighten the screws on Mina.
The allegation apparently was not a concern when the governor appointed Mina as PUC chair in 2011, and a complaint that Circuit Judge Mike Wilson operates an illegal TVR on Oahu was brushed off during his Supreme Court nomination hearing.
I welcome the state cracking down on illegal vacation rentals in the conservation zone. But this smacks of selective enforcement — especially when landowners who have admitted to operating TVRs in the conservation zone at Haena are allowed to operate with impunity.
At least nine property owners told the county real property office they are operating TVRs in the conservation district, both at Makua (Tunnels) and the area just outside Haena State Park.
Among them are a $4 million property owned by Joe Paskal, a $5.5 million estate owned by the Nan Guslander Trust, a $4.2 million house owned by the kama`aina Rice family, a $5.5 million mansion owned by the KTK Family Limited Partnership of Honolulu, and a $2.3 million house that is one of the Haena beachfront lots still armored with sandbags that were installed under a one-year temporary permit back in 1997.
All of these properties are currently paying TVR tax rates to our county, even though they're in the conservation district, which prohibits such a use. But they, apparently, haven't incurred the wrath of the governor.
Dear Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. I'm quite certain you already know about these violations, but please consider this blog post an official complaint against these properties, all of which are detailed in this document.
Meanwhile, the DLNR is properly outraged by the disgusting “Paradise Lost” article on Kalalau Valley published by Details.com. In it, Kelley McMillan wrote of going to the wilderness valley, which is managed by Office of State Parks, to “live among the Outlaws for 10 days.”
The state is pissed because the article “is an egregious misuse of a national publication,” according to an email from Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator in the Division of State Parks. What's more, “the author failed to utilize any of the accurate information provided by DSP staff and was issued a special one day permit for access in order to be at Kalalau to write the article."
DSP is “drafting an accurate response regarding the actual impact of non permitted campers on resources, authorized and compliant campers and the limited park infrastructure,” Cottrell wrote. But here's the capper:
DSP concurs about the article's lack of quality and glamorizing non-compliant behavior - and is preparing a Notice of Violation based on the admission in writing on the 10 day camping - but is not certain on the ability to impose any repercussions other than submit the "NOV" to the magazine publishers.
So the state isn't sure it can do anything when a national writer admits to illegally camping in the park for 10 days and writing an article that is sure to draw more people anxious to trade drugs for massages from topless women and party with Hollywood celebs around goat stew and a campfire.
But they'll fricking ream your ass if you're a kanaka like Ikaika Pratt, who camped in the valley without a permit in order to malama Hawaiian cultural sites. As I reported in the Honolulu Weekly, they dragged him all the way to the state Supreme Court on a illegal camping charge just to prove the state's interest in managing "its" parkland overrode Pratt's right to practice his traditional religion.
Oh yes, the state can act with a vengeance when it wants to take out the caretakers — and the governor's political foes. But the desecrators — and the politically favored —get averted eyes, or at most, a slap on the wrist.