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State eyes $42K fine for reef damage

Updated: 
October 25, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — The state Land Board will consider fining a boat tour operator $42,165 for damage done to the historic Punaluu Wharf.

Simon Velaj of Hang Loose Tours is accused of using a backhoe to destroy a concrete footing, concrete foundation, retaining wall and a concrete pillar in June. Ka‘u residents documented the actions on their cellphones.

Velaj told them he was trying to remove the remnants of the wharf, built in 1916, to give his boat easier access, according to the video posted on Facebook. He did not apply for any state or county permits.

The board will consider approving the fines Friday during a meeting in Honolulu.

Velaj, reached by phone Tuesday, said he had no comment, but added: “Everything is good here. I don’t think you should be worried about it.”

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, in a memo to the board, noted that, as a result of the damage, “newly exposed areas on the concrete pillar will substantially impact it and make it extremely vulnerable to the continuing degradation caused by ocean surge.”

Velaj, of Kailua-Kona, had a license agreement with property owner SM Investment Properties, a sister company of Roberts Hawaii.

The landowner canceled the agreement after the damage occurred.

The county issued its own fines totaling $15,000 against SM Investment Properties in July.

Daryn Arai, county planning deputy director, said in an email that the company is appealing the fines to the county Board of Appeals.

The basis of the appeal is the company thinks the fines should be given to Velaj, he said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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