Court Orders Closure of Illegal Heliport
On Friday, August 28, 1998, State of Hawai'i Third Circuit Judge Riki May Amano ruled that the Hawai'i County Planning Commission and Board of Appeals violated the County zoning code when they allowed ManuIwa Airways, Inc. to continue to use a commercial heliport on the border of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Judge Amano ordered ManuIwa to shut down operations at the heliport within 30 days of the filing of the Court's order. The Court's decision vindicates the claims of Citizens Against Noise ("CAN") which, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund ("EAJUS"), had argued that the new County zoning law, adopted in December 1996, relegated the noisy, hazardous operation of heliports to industrial zones, far away from national parks and residential areas like the Volcano Golf and Country Club subdivision, located less than one-half mile from ManuIwa's heliport.
CAN President Barry Stokes, who has lead efforts to control helicopter noise from this facility for 14 years, noted: "The disruptive tour flights from the Volcano heliport should never have been permitted in the first place. CAN is thrilled that, with the Court's order, low-level flights from this facility will cease to shatter natural quiet in the national park and to disrupt the neighboring residential subdivision."
The Volcano heliport was established within the Volcano Golf and Country Club in 1984, when the Planning Commission granted ManuIwa the first in a series of short-term use permits. The Commission limited the life of these permits to allow future re-evaluation of the heliport's impact on the neighboring golf course, residential community and national park. In 1992, faced with strong opposition from area residents and the Park Service, the Commission granted ManuIwa a final, five-year permit "to allow temporary use of the site in order to allow [ManuIwa] time to work toward relocation of [its] operation to an approved heliport."
In April 1997, the Commission reversed this position, granting a new permit that authorized ManuIwa to continue its operations at the Volcano heliport for ten more years. CAN, represented by EAJUS, immediately sought review of the Commission's decision before the Board of Appeals, arguing that any extension of the life of the Volcano heliport was prohibited because it violated the County's newly-adopted zoning code. After nine months, the Board of Appeals issued an order that compounded the problem, converting ManuIwa's ten-year permit into a permanent one. CAN then appealed to the Circuit Court.
"Judge Amano's ruling sends a strong signal that land use decisions in Hawai'i County must be made according to the letter of the law, rather than whim," said EAJUS attorney David Henkin. "The Court's ruling is a victory not only for CAN, but for all citizens in the county who want rational, accountable land use planning.