(BIVN) – The Hawaii land board voted on Friday to fine the man accused of digging up part of the historic Punalu’u Wharf with a backhoe back in June.
Simon Velaj’s actions – and his demeanor when confronted – landed him on the bad side of the Kaʻū community when the incident occurred. Velaj, who had leased land from S.M. Investment Partners, said he was trying to improve the wharf area in order to safely launch lava boat tours from the boat ramp. Residents forced Velaj to stop work, and Velaj apologized to the community at a public meeting following the incident. S.M. Investment Partners cancelled their License Agreement with Velaj.
Later that month, Velaj was hit with a violation notice for “Unauthorized Alteration of Historic Properties and Unauthorized Land Use Within the Conservation District”, according to the State of Hawaii. Fines were recommended in the amount of nearly $70,000. They accused Velaj of damaging four features on the 100-year old wharf: a concrete pillar, a rock retaining wall, concrete foundation, and a concrete footing/pad with two large bolts.
The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources voted to approve the fines levied against Velaj at Friday’s meeting on Oahu. But not before Velaj had a chance to address the board members.
Velaj took a defensive posture, and was clearly upset with the results of the state investigation into the incident. Velaj denied that he had anything to do with the damage to the wharf pillars. He also claimed the Army Corps of Engineers, in a previous investigation, could find nothing wrong with the work he did.
Velaj characterized himself as a hard working man trying to run a safe business for his customers. “Nothing was done illegal there,” Velaj told board members. “Here’s our state- getting paid from God knows where and how – trying to put this little guy down, as far down as they can. And I don’t understand, whats the point?”
A DLNR spokesperson said Velaj also gave verbal notice that he intends to request a contested case hearing on the matter.