Stop the Helicopter Landings

Back when the Robinsons applied for a helicopter landing permit, I argued against it saying it would just lead to more companies wanting to do the same. Well, it’s happening.

Last Tuesday, the Kaua’i Planning Commission held a public hearing [PDF] on the application for:

Use Permit U-2008-3, Special Permit SP-2008-2 and Class IV Zoning Permit Z-IV-2008-5 to permit a helicopter tour landing area for visitation and viewing of the Manawaiopuna Falls in Koula Valley, Kauai, further identified as Tax Map Key 1-8-001:001 = Island Helicopters Kauai, Inc. [Hearing continued from 1/27/09.]

Manawaiopuna is the large and beautiful waterfall on a tributary of the Hanapepe river, made famous as a backdrop at the beginning of the Jurassic Park movie (stills 1 and 2). Because it is already popular during helicopter tours, there are lots of aerial photos of it on if you search for Jurassic Park waterfall. Here’s a better one from the ground.

Source: used by permission

Notice how small the person is in this image. I would estimate the entire waterfall to be around 150 feet (50 meters) high. ManawaiopunaFalls_2
Source: used by permission

One reason to oppose the landings is that nobody knows the impact on the ecosystem. Kaua’i is home to several endangered birds, and I can’t believe that regualar helicopter landings make for a good habitat. Then there’s the issue of pollution, mainly of having facilities by these remote streams. One would hope they use porta-potties or composting toilets, but I’m not sure what was mentioned as part of the permit.

Worse, this is just going to spur the competition. There are 5-6 helicopter companies operating regularly, each is going to want their own waterfall. Actually, I’m not sure which would be worse, each going to the same waterfall or all spread out. That 6 times as many landings, 6 times as many people washing sunscreen off into pristine mountain streams.

Safari Helicopters are the ones landing on the Robinson property, and they liked to emphasize their unique opportunity:
“Safari is the first and only legally authorized company to provide a remote landing on the island of Kauai since all helicopters were banned from landing anywhere over 25 years ago. Any other company that purports to do a remote landing on a regular basis is doing so on an illegal basis.”
Which lays the blame for starting this whole landing nonsense on Inter-Island Helicopters and their illegal landings at Puu Ka Ele waterfall inland of Kilauea (among others). If you call them up and ask if they’re permitted, they will say they had helped in a rescue some time back and have been given special permission to land on the private property. This is still illegal. Helicopter landing is a commercial activity and that requires a county permit for private land or a state permit for public land. InterIslandIllegalLanding_1
Source: buxtrosion on
Source: rlonas on
Please don’t particiapate in illegal activity, it’s not cool.

If you oppose this too, you can still submit your testimony to the Planning commission up until February 17, 2009. I hope the postmark date counts, because all I can find is their postal address: Kaua’i Planning Commission, 4444 Rice Street, Lihue, HI 96766. Include the relevant case numbers above.

I think what irks me about the whole thing is not just the invasion of helicopters in the backcountry, it’s the idea of paying to access the natural beauty of Kaua’i. There is a historical system of large landowners in Hawai’i, and as long as they stick to growing sugar or pineapple (and not converting the land to housing development), it doesn’t really bother me. But to water their fields, they bought up the valleys of the interior and channeled the water out in ditches (which is also a bit troubling, even murky I might say, given that water rights are separate from the land in Hawaii).

Granted this preserved the valleys in a way, and even if it did shut off access to lots of backcountry scenery, there was little or no privileged access. But now, places that would be worthy of a state parks are being opened up to the priveleged few who can afford $200-300 for 45 minutes of flying and 30 minutes of sitting by a beautiful waterfall. On top of that we get more noise over our trails, forests and neighborhoods, as well as unknown impacts on the wildlife.

I really wonder how and why they stopped all helicopter landings 25 years ago, but I hope they can do it again.

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  1. joe/conshohocken,pa says:

    Makes sense to me. Choppers
    are way too loud for that envir-
    oment. Good luck.

  2. Josh says:

    With helicopters being the least intrusive method to allow people to take in the natural beauty (versus building trails, destroying vegetation, and limiting access to the disabled) why are you so against it?

  3. Manawai says:

    Just to correct a couple things wrong in your article. It is Island Helicopters (not Safari) that have an exclusive license to land at Manawaiopuna Falls. No other company can land at or drive to the falls. Your concern over potential damage to the environment is way overblown and is not supported by the in depth ecological studies performed by for the permit issuance and renewals. these studies are part of the Country record which you may access if you wish to verify what I’ve said.

  4. Andy says:

    Hi Manawai, this article was written before Island Helicopter’s landing permit was approved. You can see their name in the hearing notice at the top. Safari Helicopters has the permit to land at Robinson’s garden or preserve somewhere on the slopes above Kaumakani (not sure exactly where it is)–that photo doesn’t lie.

    But this is an old article. Island Helicopter’s landing permit at Manawaiopuna falls was approved and they do landings there. I don’t know if Safari is still doing their landings–I haven’t been following the helicopter industry recently. Except of course when I go camping up in Sugi Grove and the helicopters fly right over all day.

    It seems like you know a lot about Island Helicopter’s permits. I don’t have time to request them from the county, so if you have a copy of the studies, please link to them or send them to me so I can post them (Andy at great-hikes dot com).

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