(CN) – Hawaiian officials illegally privatized a historic state park and limited its public use by awarding a 25-year lease to a child care and tourism company, according to a federal class action in Honolulu. The class claims Hawaii’s natural resources director did it despite the Legislature’s rejection of her proposals to raise more money from state parks.
He’eia State Park, on Kaneohe Bay, is home to several endangered species and has been used by native Hawaiians as a religious site since ancient times.
For decades the defendant nonprofit Friends of He’eia State Park held the lease to manage the park. But in April Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Laura Thielen handed the keys to Kama’aina Kids, a nonprofit that runs “preschool programs, before and afterschool programs, day camps, environmental education programs, enrichment programs, sports clinics and hotel programs.”
The class claims Thielen violated state and federal laws because the land was bought with federal money and Kama’aina Kids is a “private entity.”
“The state is in the process of privatizing lands purchased with federal dollars in transferring total use of the He’eia State Park to a private entity,” the complaint states.
“Thielen seeks to erase decades long efforts for protection of this federally funded purchase of He’eia State Park to in one fell swoop accomplish the quasi theft of public lands for privatized use, ignore federal statute and protections for the next 25 years in a de facto unauthorized predetermined transfer of complete control of the public land through a scheme of a bid process in which the winner was pre-selected and the competition was a fraudulent act.”
In announcing the lease on April 9, the state said in a statement that “Kama’aina Kids has expressed an interest in collaboration with the board members of the Friends of He’eia and many other members of the community on new and future program development – as they also strive to generate income to improve the aging and unsightly conditions of this historical park.”
But the class claims that Thielen skipped permitting procedures to award the lease, and defied the Legislature after it rejected her previous efforts to glean more income from Hawaii’s state parks.
“After failing in the State Legislature to use the State Parks as an income source under legislation known as ‘Recreational Renaissance,’ Thielen nonetheless, in clear violation of the intent of the Hawaii State Legislature, issued the lease that in exchange for dollars from the private income production grossly limited public use of He’eia State Park,” the lawsuit claims.
Thielen denied the allegations in an article posted on Honolulu’s ABC TV affiliate, saying, “This is a public park, it will stay a public park but we’ve strengthened the contract of the lease to make it very clear our state park rules apply. It is open to the public, all the existing programs will continue, the community uses will continue.”
The class alleges violations of the National Historical Preservation Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Civil Rights Act and other federal and state laws.
It wants the lease enjoined and wants the Friends of He’eia State Park to resume management of the park until “all required permits, assessments and notifications required under the federal statutes herein be complied with.”
The class is represented Anthony Locricchio of Kailua.