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Hawai‘i Environmental Legislative Caucus introduces visitor ‘green fee’ bill

LIHU‘E — The state Legislature’s Environmental Legislative Caucus has introduced a bill that could create more than $400 million in annual funds for environmental protections by charging visitors entrance fees for visiting certain state recreational sites.

The concept — shared by at least seven other active bills — would create a visitor “green fee,” requiring tourists over a certain age to purchase a $50 license in order to access state parks, beaches and other state-owned natural areas.

In the case of the caucus-backed House Bill 442, the license requirement would apply to all nonresidents ages 15 and up.

Under HB442, money gained from license fees and noncompliance penalties, as well as gifts and donations, would go into a new “visitor green fee special fund.”

A new environmental legacy commission would then put the funds toward environmental protection and restoration projects. Between 25 and 50 percent of funds would go to nonprofit organizations, and the rest would go to state and local agencies.

According to the Hawai‘i Green Fee Coalition — consisting of several dozen groups in support of such a fee — the proposal could generate more than $400 million annually.

“The way we see it is, it’s kind of the starting point for us to be able to implement solutions that scale for the state,” said Carissa Cabrera, project manager at Hawai‘i Green Fee. “Because you can’t do that without a reliable source of funding, which would be generated with a visitor green fee.”

The idea of expanding visitor fees grew to greater prominence in Hawai‘i during the lead-up to the 2022 election.

During his gubernatorial campaign, then-candidate Josh Green expressed interest in charging all visitors to Hawai‘i $50 as they arrived at the airport.

However, following concerns from state legislators over the legality of his proposal and potential impacts on the tourism industry, the now-governor appeared willing to accept a less all-encompassing proposal during his State of the State address last month.

“The revenues generated from visitor impact fees should fortify all of our efforts to protect Hawai‘i’s people and our way of life,” he told House and Senate members.

“And we’ll continue to take the impacts of climate change seriously. I support any plan — any plan — that gets us to a place where resources come from the impact of travelers to protect our environment.”

Green doubled down on his more open stance on Monday during an interview on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook series “Spotlight.”

“My feeling is, it’s a win for us either way. From kind of a philosophical standpoint, it’s the same thing,” he told the hosts.

“Whether or not we collected $50 from individuals that first stepped down into Hawai‘i — we’re talking about age 16 and older — that would bring about $400 million a year to help us fight the climate concerns we have. Or, if we do specific areas, it’ll also be very effective.”

Leaders in both chambers of Hawai‘i’s Legislature have voiced support for expanding visitor fees at the state’s nature sites.

In his opening day speech Jan. 18, House Speaker Scott Saiki broadly advocated for charging visitors to access Hawai‘i’s recreational areas.

“We should create a statewide visitor reservation and payment system; make major investments to repair or restore our state parks, ocean resources and forests; and harness the enthusiasm and physical strength of community organizations to maintain parks and trails,” he said.

In the Senate, President Ron Kouchi of Lihu‘e, who represents Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, suggested in his opening day speech that Hawai‘i broaden its current park reservation fee system.

Kouchi used the North Shore’s Ha‘ena State Park, where Ke‘e Beach and the Napali Coast trailhead are located, as an example of his proposal, which has charged non-Hawai‘i residents $5 per person or $10 per vehicle to access the park since 2019, and now generates about $1 million a year.

“There are other parks that would be appropriate,” he said. “And I believe we could be generating between $20 and $40 million a year from visitors.”


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-245-0427 or
Source: The Garden Island

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