KAUAI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - On Kauai, families who have been making salt, or paakai, for generations in Hanapepe's famed salt ponds are fighting the expansion of a nearby helicopter tour company.
They say the pollution and noise from the Maverick Helicopters facility and fleet at Port Allen Airport are threatening their special practice.
"They have flown over us," said salt maker Kuulei Santos. "They will testify that they haven't, but we have videos that they have."
"Sand is coming into our salt beds," said salt maker Kanani Santos. "And the sand mixes with the clay and it's hard to get the sand out."
Smoky Mountain Helicopters, the company that operates Maverick Helicopters, is seeking a zoning permit which would legalize construction the company did without county approval.
On Tuesday, the Kauai Planning Commission held a hearing on the request and heard hours of emotional testimony from the salt makers and their supporters.
“We don’t have a lot left,” said salt maker Haunani Kaiminaauao. “And if you allow them to expand illegally and continue to not enforce what they’ve already done, there’s not going to be anything left for my children and grandchildren.”
For more than five generations, select families in Hanapepe have been making and harvesting paakai in the traditional Hawaiian way.
But for years, the salt makers say the development happening around them has been affecting the quality and quantity of the product.
"We are dying. We're not able to give five gallon buckets anymore. We give out sandwich bags and that's because all the impacts that happen around us," said Kuulei Santos.
A online petition against the helicopter company has almost 20,000 signatures.
The permit in question would allow modifications to the Maverick Helicopters’ restrooms, office trailer, and storage unit.
In a statement, the company says, “The permits in question with the County of Kauai will not increase the number of flights operated. The permits will allow us to repair, maintain and improve items associated with our lease agreement with the State of Hawaii. We are not attempting business expansion despite public perception.”
The Planning Commission decided to hold a contested case hearing on the dispute.
A schedule has not been set yet.