State Board member accused of conflict of interest

Published: Mar. 15, 2012 at 10:17 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 16, 2012 at 12:03 AM HST
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Rob Pacheco
Rob Pacheco
William Aila, Jr., Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair
William Aila, Jr., Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair

KALAPANA, Big Island (HawaiiNewsNow) - KapohoKine Adventures has been giving tours near Kaimu Beach for years, which is popular for its black sand.  But now the company has been ordered to stop using state land and it's where the complaint came from that has raised questions.

The land created by lava is owned by the state.  Tours are not allowed on it without permission.  The owner of KapohoKine Adventures was told he breaking that rule with his lava tours.

"We don't know what we're doing wrong. We were operating under a caretaker agreement that's in place down there, us and a couple dozen other tour operators," said Tony DeLellis, KapohoKine Adventures Owner.

What burns him is that the complaint was lodged by Rob Pacheco who is a state Board of Land and Natural Resources member but also owns a tour company giving volcano tours and is a direct competitor of KapohoKine Adventures.

"That doesn't prevent me from expressing opinions or bringing concerns to the department or things like that," said Rob Pacheco, Hawaii Forest & Trail Owner and BLNR Member.

Pacheco denies a conflict. He says he complained after a board meeting to the land administrator and days later the Department of Land and Natural Resources issued the cease and desist letter to KapohoKine.

"It's just too fine of a line to allow someone to have feet in both ponds. I think it's a very dangerous situation that is created when you allow people that have a vested interest in making these decisions go a certain way," said DeLello.  "I'm disappointed that a member of a board for a public agency, in my mind and I'm not an attorney, but in my mind someone who has that kind of public position and holds a lot of public trust to make these kinds of decisions would potentially use his position to target his competition."

"There are definitely times when there is a conflict or perceived conflict and in those cases I recuse myself," said Pacheco.

He says that's happened less than five times since he's been on the Board, but one of those examples was last year when again dealing with KapohoKine when the company was fined for altering a trail.  KapohoKine is also the company involved in the fatal zipline accident last year.

"In my mind it's not a conflict of interest," said William Aila, Jr., Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair.

Aila says there's nothing wrong with a state board member filing a complaint on his business competitor.

"A conflict of interest is if he is using his office to do something. In the situation we're talking about Rob Pacheco who is acting as an individual bringing a concern to the department at a board meeting. The Board did not take any action.  The Department took action as we would with any other concern brought to us by members of the public," said Aila.

The state ethics commission says on its face it raises enough questions and investigators will take a closer look at the accusations.

The DLNR may also send cease and desist letters to the other tour companies using state land without authorization.  The other option is to come up with a permit system to allow the use of state land.  Both options are being discussed by the state.

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