Big Island Residents Halt Punalu‘u ExcavationJune 27, 2017, 11:44 AM HST (Updated June 27, 2017, 11:55 AM)
Many Hawai‘i Island residents expressed outrage and disbelief after viewing a Facebook video of a Hang Loose Boat Tours’ operator using heavy machinery in an apparent attempt to excavate the historic Punalu‘u Wharf without permits or permission.
Ka‘ū District residents, and nearby campers and fishermen confronted the man operating the backhoe at the wharf, who identified himself as Simon Velaj, the owner of Hang Loose Boat Tours in Kailua-Kona.
One of three videos of the incidents (see below) posted by Pahala musician Demetrius Oliveira on Friday, June 23, 2107, at 9:05 a.m., tallied over 13,000 views, 367 shares and 152 comments.
Sean Ueda, a Big Island resident who also viewed three videos posted by Oliveira, contacted Big Island Now.
“Due to the cap on permits issued at the government-controlled boat ramp at Pohoiki, some tour boat operators are eyeing the privately owned ramp at Punalu‘u for launching lava boat tours,” Ueda said. “Simon from Hang Loose Boat Tours was caught by locals using an excavator to break large boulders in an attempt to widen the existing boat ramp. When confronted, he could not produce any permits and admitted that the ramp is too small to get his boat into the water.”
After residents confronted Velaj on Friday morning, he left the area.
Witnesses to the excavation were told that the tour operator wanted to build a boat ramp so he could safely launch his boat. He reportedly told them that he had a license from the landowner to use the wharf.
SM Investment Partners (associated with Roberts Hawai‘i,), the legal owner of the Punalu‘u boat ramp, said that they are not associated with nor did they have knowledge of Hang Loose Boat Tours and its attempts to widen the boat ramp.
Initial work was reported to have begun on Thursday, June 22.
Witnesses said they saw machinery breaking up concrete pylons and pushing large boulders into the ocean.
Changes made at the shoreline usually require permits from the county, state and federal government.
Velaj apologized to dozens of area residents who packed into the Na‘alehu Community Center Monday night, June 26, to express their concerns to county and state officials, including worries about the impacts on a nearby heiau.
“We were appalled and shocked,” Oliveira told media outlets. “My reaction was shock. 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.”
“I’m here to apologize in person to each one of you guys. I made a mistake,” Velaj said. “I’m not even supposed to be at this meeting, but I’m here to apologize.”
The owner of the wharf has already canceled the tour operator’s license to use the facility.
The state and other agencies are investigating the incident.
The three videos taken by Oliveira were viewed by over 100,000 Facebook users as of publication of this article.