Residents blast tour operator for using heavy machinery along historic Punaluu shoreline

Provided by Big Island Video News

Some Hawaii island residents are outraged after a tour operator apparently started demolition work at a boat ramp along a historic shoreline in Punaluu without permission.

Area residents saw the man, who identified himself as the owner of Hang Loose Boat Tours, operating a backhoe at the Punaluu wharf. They reacted quickly and confronted the man, who apparently did not have a permit.

The state tells us it’s investigating the incident, but the owner of the wharf has already canceled the tour operator’s license to use the facility.

Residents tell us they initially saw the work being done on Thursday, June 22. They say the machinery was being used to break up concrete pylons and push large boulders into the ocean.

Residents were told that the tour operator wanted to build a boat ramp so he could safely launch his boat. When asked if he had a permit, residents were told that he had a license from the landowner to use the wharf.

But changes made at the shoreline usually require permits from the county, state, and federal government. When residents confronted the man Friday morning, he left.

Dozens packed Naalehu Community Center Monday night to express their concerns to county and state officials.

At the meeting, Hawaii County Council member Maile Medeiros David explained the operator, Simon Velaj, requested to speak to residents.

“I’m here to apologize in person to each one of you guys. I made a mistake,” he said. “I’m not even supposed to be at this meeting, but I’m here to apologize.”

Multiple state agencies and the county are investigating what happened.

But the concern from the community goes beyond permitting issues. Residents say they were also worried about disturbing a nearby heiau.

“We were appalled and shocked. My reaction was shock,” said resident Demetrius Oliveira. “If you just take a couple of steps, right there is the heiau, and there has been some archaeological work done at the site, and there’s speculation that there is iwi kupuna, which is bones near the area where he was pushing.”

The wharf is owned by SM Investment Partners, which sent a letter to Hang Loose Boat Tours on Friday canceling the license agreement: “We did not authorize you to conduct any activities as described above nor can we condone this type of unlawful behavior, thus we have no option but to cancel your License Agreement due to your non-compliance.”

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