Commission denies copter tours

SUBHEAD: Planning Commission overrules Department to protect the fragile ecosystem of Kauai. [Editor's Note: We applaud the Planning Commission for overriding the Planning Department Recommendation to approve landing helicopters near a secluded waterfall with a delicate ecosystem. We hope to see the Planning Commission continue to serving it's intended role: to direct the Planning Department to action that ensures the General Plan is followed with the well being of the public and the aina. For too long the Planning Department has been in the driver's seat, and the Planning Commission has been just a rubber stamp for the Department's recommendations. It seems that instead of ensuring the General Plan is followed, the Planning Department is in the business of approving constant exceptions to the rules. All correspondence for the Commission goes through the Planning Department. If you want to let them know how you feel about the decision, you can call them at (808) 241-4050] Image above: Inter-Island Helicopter headquarters at Burns Field in Hanapepe, Kauai. Note - fuel depot (lower left) built without permit, hanger (upper left) built without required Special Management Area permit. This is the outfit that flies "green harvest flights" over rural residential areas for the DEA. Photo from ( By Leo Azambuja on February 22, 2011 in The Garden Island ( In a rare move that flew in the face of the Planning Department’s recommendation, the Kaua‘i Planning Commission on Tuesday denied Inter-Island Helicopters a permit to land a chopper near a secluded waterfall for guided tours.

“I find this proposed helicopter landing site not compatible with the subject property,” Commissioner Caven Raco said. “The site is a very pristine and protected area.”

The commission unanimously approved Raco’s motion to deny the landing permit at Hali‘i Falls, located approximately 1.5 miles from Kilohana Crater, 3.5 miles from Kaumuali‘i Highway, and three miles from Kahili Adventist School.

Inter-Island co-owner Robin Venuti’s promise to bring back native flora wasn’t enough to convince the commissioners.

He said he understood commissioners’ concerns, but the impacts would be less than the benefits.

“We truly feel that our being there will do more good, as we already said, removing (invasive) plant species, education ... than the five minutes per hour for a maximum of four flights per day,” Venuti said.

Venuti told commissioners he would help clear the area of invasive species, especially overgrown ginger.

Commissioner Camilla Matsumoto said she did not see such a proposal on the application. Venuti responded, saying, “Right now all the improvements we would do would be on a safety issue,” adding that a guava tree and ginger plants needed to be removed to allow for the landing.

County planner Ka‘aina Hull said such conditions to clear the area of invasive species could be added to the application, but commissioners remained firm on their opinion. Not even Planning Director Michael Dahilig’s testimony was able to convince commissioners to approve the permit.

“We’ve taken a look at compatibility issues, and we think that they can be mitigated,” said Dahilig, adding that nothing is 100 percent compatible or incompatible. “There’s always this shade of gray that we deal with.”

Dahilig said that is the reason the department allows a flexibility in the use permit process to establish conditions to limit use and mitigate certain elements of a particular issue, making it more compatible.

“When we’re taking a look at the totality of these circumstances here, we think that, based on the recommendation, there are curves on the use that can be implemented in order to make this use compatible,” Dahilig said.

Commissioner Hartwell Blake said the question was the cost of compatibility.

“First we have to put up with ambient noise,” he said. “We have to put up with mini-cyclones.”

Raco told Venuti that he had no personal objections to the helicopter tour industry; his decision was based on a zoning ordinance.

“You need to accept the fact that the helicopter landing site is extremely loud and extremely offensive,” he told Venuti, adding that chapter eight of the County Charter designates industrial districts as areas where activities offensive to the senses should take place.

“I believe the impact would be severe, and that no degree of mitigation would be appropriate,” Raco said.

Robin and his wife Dana Venuti have been trying since September to obtain a permit to land a tour on Hali‘i Falls. Inter-Island was previously owned by Ken D’Attilio, who had been allegedly conducting unpermitted waterfall landings there for many years.

The Venutis said they took over the company in January 2010, and have been trying to clean up advertising promoting waterfall landings as they worked to obtain a permit to land by Hali‘i. They said in September that they hadn’t done a single waterfall landing since the beginning of the summer.

Despite claiming ownership of the company in September, Dun and Bradstreet, a business and database company, as of July 3, 2010, stated four of D’Attilio’s family members as stock holders, each with 25 percent ownership in the company.

When contacted in September about the ownership issue, D’Attilio said the company still belonged to him.

In January, D&B reported the Venutis as Inter-Island owners. Robin Venuti said on Jan. 11 that D’Attilio remained as a consultant.

After leaving the meeting, Venuti seemed to remain confident he could still obtain a permit.

“We will fight through, we’ll make it. We’ll get through it,” he said.


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