(ABOVE VIDEO) Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator Darryl Oliveira answers Councilmember Brenda Ford’s questions about a controversial lava tour operation in Kaohe Homestead. Video by David Corrigan.
PUNA, Hawaii – Hawaii Island lava tour operators and residents of the restricted Kaohe Homesteads are crying foul over the actions of another tour company.
‘Ahiu Hawaii has been under fire for bringing visitors out to see the June 27 lava flow. They are the only company offering the lava tour at the moment. The company says they have legal access. They even thanked Hawaii County for allowing them to continue conducting the tours on their Facebook page. Meanwhile, other tour companies are on the sidelines, and they are not happy.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources has closed access to the lava flow through state lands. DLNR cited safety concerns, following reports of tour groups and individuals wandering onto state lands to get a better look at the lava. But ‘Ahiu Hawaii is conducting the tours from a private land parcel in Kaohe. The lava is crossing a small portion of private land in the northwest corner of Kaohe, and has the rest of the subdivision on alert. Although no evacuation has been ordered for the subdivision (no structures are under immediate threat), access to Kaohe Homesteads remains restricted to area residents only, according to civil defense. But ‘Ahiu Hawaii has found a way in.
Orion Enocencio, the manager of the tour company, told Big Island Video News on Monday evening, “As of now ‘Āhiu Hawaii is currently leasing a private property in the Kaohe Homesteads and operating legal recreational activities within the parameters of the law. All recreational activities are only taken place on the Private Property.”
The county has apparently not given the tour its blessing, however. During a Monday media conference, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator Darryl Oliveira said, “We do not support the tours. We are working on controlling what is happening there. We have a supplemental proclamation from the mayor that is going to be made public. It is going to limit and restrict – as we have done from the start – to residents who reside in that subdivision only. ”
“As far as their ‘thank you note’ on the internet,” Oliveira said, “this particular company has unfortunately been misrepresenting their conversations with myself, with State DOCARE, and other organizations.”
Here is audio from the discussion.
On Tuesday before the Hawaii County Council Committee on Public Safety and Mass Transit, Oliveira said the county is “working on tightening up the loopholes that are allowing some of these activities to take place that just aren’t safe for anybody to be doing.” (video at the top of the page)
Earlier this year, trouble befell an ‘Ahiu Hawaii lava tour when a 36 year old female had to be airlifted out of the Kahaualea Forest Reserve by a county chopper when she sprained her ankle. At the time, the 22,500-acre Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve was closed due to the volcanic activity. DLNR said the tour company was under investigation for the incident.
Competing tour operators are also unhappy with ‘Ahiu’s ongoing tours. Various companies have been asking government officials to open access to the flow for all businesses.
On Tuesday, Oliveira said “When the lava is in an accessible area that will allow us to help provide ease of access, safe access, safe viewing, we will do that. At this time its not in that area.”
Some Kaohe residents have also opposed the tours. One longtime ‘ohana of the area has dressed down the tour company for indicating on its Facebook page that they had the family’s blessing to be in Kaohe.
Jerry Konanui, who has deep Kaohe roots, shared this statement with us:
All I can talk about is my ohana and what happens in our Kaohe Homestead North Road Community. …..my great grandfather Samuel Kapua’akuni Nuhi owned the property across of my farm here on North Road and he farmed that land until he couldn’t no more and so, sold it. So all I see is this company of outsiders bring malahini(s) tourists into our stressed out tired from evacuating community…… this is not the time for tourist education we need our PRIVACY…. like a funeral ……. these are KAUMAHA times for our community, ….. what Ahiu Hawaii is doing is what my Kuku would call MAHA’OI…….. he is not from our community bringing strangers passing my lepas and kuahu and disturbing my practices of communicating with my ancestors hala and my Akua, kini akua, Na Aumakua….. how dare these outsiders come into our KNR community without our community permission. Ahiu-Hawaii will do everything within their powers to keep the spiritual aspect of the area scared? …… THAN DO IT …… Ahiu-Hawaii have the power by stopping this mea hewa. Mahalo nui… Jerry Konanui, with roots of this aina going back to his Great grand Kuku Kapua’akuni Nuhi.