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PUC chairwoman investigated for illegal rental operation

By Star-Advertiser Staff

LAST UPDATED: 6:52 p.m. HST, Mar 11, 2014

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission chairwoman is being investigated for allegedly illegally building and operating a Hanalei bed and breakfast for more than a decade, the Kauai Garden Island newspaper reported Tuesday.

Hermina 'Mina' Morita and her husband, Lance Laney, ran the vacation rental Taro Patch Hale without permission, and built the secluded North Shore vacation getaway in a state conservation district without the proper permits, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The allegations are expected to discussed at the land board's March 28 meeting, the newspaper said.

Alex Roy, planner of the department's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, wrote that the ongoing investigation -- initiated by an anonymous complaint in 2008 -- "recently afforded new information and evidence that supports this alleged violation claim.

Laney said he has shut down the bed and breakfast facility.

Morita, who represented East and North Kauai in the Legislature from 1997 to 2011, did not return calls to the newspaper.

In a Dec. 16 letter to the couple, William Aila, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said: "We have evidence that the following land uses were conducted on the subject parcel without our knowledge or authorization: clearing of vegetation; grubbing, construction of three building structures; construction of one large carport/building; on-going vacation rental of the Lii Cottage and Nui Cottage." 

Aila ordered the couple to cease further land uses and activities, including all current and future vacation rentals.

Taro Patch Hale is on a 3.18-acre parcel within the State Land Use Conservation District Protective Subzone, at the end of Ohiki Road.

Morita's future as head of the PUC regulatory agency has been in  doubt recently after an Abercrombie staff member reportedly said the governor did not intend to reappoint her. Gov. Neil Abercrombie has declined to say whether he plans to reappoint a Morita when her term ends June 30.

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