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DLNR seeking input on fishpond restoration permitting

March 7, 2014 - 12:05am

Community organizations and cultural practitioners have struggled for decades to restore traditional fishpond systems because of a burdensome, slow and expensive regulatory process. Too many permits are required from too many agencies, forcing applicants to negotiate a complex maze of paperwork and review, which can take years to complete.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources found applicants are required to comply with as many as 17 distinct regulations to obtain permits from about a dozen agencies, planner Michael Cain said.

At a public hearing Wednesday evening, attendees seemed to favor a proposal to have DLNR pursue a state programmatic general permit from the federal government, which would allow the state to streamline the process with a single permit application for some fishpond projects.

Of the 13 attendees at the West Hawaii Civic Center, only one — Kona resident Rebecca Most — testified in support. The rest asked questions regarding how often applicants would have to apply for permits, whether approval would have to be sought for anchialine pool restoration and new fishpond construction, as well as the types of best management practices required.

Most said such streamlining of permits and standardization of protocols have been sorely needed for a long time. She also spoke about the importance of such revitalization work, which allows the community to feel connected to the place, while also preserving these important habitats for native species.

With the proposed action, DLNR’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands would essentially be a one-stop shop for applicants seeking a permit, which meets state and federal requirements, to do a wide range of common fishpond restoration activities in areas zoned conservation. The permit will cover “the big three” — mechanical dredging, repair of damaged walls, and removal of invasive species that trigger ground disturbances like mechanical removal of mangroves, said Sam Lemmo, public hearing officer and OCCL administrator.

The permit will also allow for innovations with respect for the system, such as making walls thicker and taller in areas prone to storm damage or allowing metal makaha (gates), Lemmo said.

The permit does not add any additional regulatory burdens or requirements, something DLNR was vigilant about, Cain said.

The following five permits or authorizations would be streamlined through this program: the coastal zone management consistency statement from the state Office of Planning, environment assessment from the Office of Environmental Quality and Control, general permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, water quality certification from the Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch, and conservation district use application from the OCCL.

It will not incorporate county permits. Actions that trigger county regulatory requirements will still be handled by those respective county agencies. Nor will this new permit process incorporate the state leasing process for those wishing to restore fishponds on state public land, Lemmo said.

Those wanting to do a project would be required to submit a Conservation District Use application, which includes information about the fishpond’s history, the ecology, the applicant’s relationship to the pond and associated ahupuaa, the proposed work, and the proposed best management practices and water quality monitoring plans that will be followed.

DLNR is discussing with the Army Corps of Engineers what the final best management practices will be required at minimum for all projects.

When it comes to water quality monitoring, fishponds will be measured for turbidity, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and pH. DLNR is looking into possibly having communal testing equipment for applicants to use. However, more advanced water quality assessment and monitoring protocols may be required for certain projects, Cain said.

DLNR would create a three-tier review process. Tier I includes minor repairs, such as replacing small wall sections, individual rocks or other wall materials, fixing gates or dredging by nonmechanized means, as well as building or place structures less than 600 square feet, stocking and harvesting with traditional methods, and alien species removal. Tier II would be for emergency repairs or work that involves repairing, restoring and operating 10 to 50 percent of the original structure. Tier III is work that encompasses more than 50 percent of the pond, involves mechanical dredging, and has activities that may moderately affect sandy beaches or sediment deposition. This tier would have site-specific best management practices.

With Tier II and III, the proposals will go out for agency and community review prior to DLNR’s chairman signing the permit.

Maintenance projects will not require a permit, Lemmo said.

DLNR is seeking comments on this proposed permitting process through Monday. After reviewing all the received input, DLNR will submit a report to the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The board will decide whether to authorize DLNR’s chairman to sign a programmatic agreement with the federal government and for the OCCL to run the program, known as Hoala Loko Ia. The public will have the opportunity to submit testimony for that board meeting, Lemmo said.

OCCL is anticipating the Army Corps of Engineers will issue a general permit that will give the state the authority to issue fishpond restoration permits for five years. Written comments should be mailed to OCCL, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809.

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