County Civil Defense cracks down on lava tours

Hawaii County plans to reinforce its restrictions on accessing Kaohe Homesteads after a tour company was found to be using the neighborhood to reach the June 27 lava flow.

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Hawaii County plans to reinforce its restrictions on accessing Kaohe Homesteads after a tour company was found to be using the neighborhood to reach the June 27 lava flow.

County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said a supplemental emergency proclamation will be issued shortly specifically prohibiting tour groups.

The existing emergency declaration already restricts access to Kaohe to property owners and residents only but the county wants to take any uncertainty out of the issue, he said.

The problem arose after Ahiu Hawaii was found taking a van of people to the neighborhood last Thursday.

Oliveira said he let them through with an escort out of empathy for the customers but added it was not a pass for the Hilo company to continue the tours. The company was also told to follow-up the next day with other county officials to determine the legality of the operation.

Orion Enocencio, company owner, said he believed he got a verbal OK from county planning officials Friday, and said Monday he was still continuing the tours.

Oliveira said the company doesn’t have permits to conduct the tours and that the Planning Department said Friday that no commercial activities, including tours, are allowed in Kaohe at this time.

“If they are still going on then we need to start working on the enforcement side,” he said.

Enocencio said he believed he was still following proper protocol.

He said he has an agreement with a Kaohe landowner to use their property for the tours, and that the tour groups stay on that person’s property to access active parts of the flow.

“There are a ton of people trespassing, a ton of people doing illegal tours,” Enocencio said, referring to other groups.

Oliveira said the active areas are not on private property.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has closed access to state lands around the flow.

Ahiu Hawaii also caught the attention of DLNR in July when a hiker on one of its lava tours was injured within either the Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve or Wao Kele o Puna Forest Reserve.

Commercial activities in both of those areas required a permit, which the company didn’t have.

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It wasn’t immediately clear Monday if that resulted in any enforcement action.

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

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