HONOLULU – The state of Hawaii is scheduled to hear arguments this week on whether three Oahu men, including a Mormon church bishop, should each be fined over $3,000 for allegedly stealing rocks from a Maui beach for an underground cooking pit at their church.
The men allegedly tried to haul 943 coconut-sized rocks in pickup trucks on board the Hawaii Superferry from Maui to the Kahaluu Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Charlie Bright, one of the three men, told The Associated Press he has a letter from the landowner giving him permission to take the rocks.
Bright wouldn't say who the landowner was. He said that would be revealed at the Board of Land and Natural Resources' hearing regarding the matter on Friday.
State officials say the men took the rocks last August from a spot called "River Mouth" where the Iao stream meets the sea at Paukukalo beach, a state land-use conservation district. They say it's illegal to mine, dredge, or harvest anything in the area.
An off-duty Department of Land and Natural Resources officer surfing at Waiehu Bay said he saw the men load the rocks into three trucks on Aug. 27, 2007.
State officials separately received a complaint from the Maui Sierra Club about people taking rocks from the beach. The complaint said the trucks involved were parked at the Hawaii Superferry terminal in Kahului.
A state Department of Land and Natural Resources report said Bright initially allegedly told investigators that he bought the rocks but didn't want to name the seller because he feared doing so would get the person in trouble.
The report said Bright later allegedly called state officials to say he and two other men removed the rocks from Paukukalo but they didn't know doing so was illegal.
"We do this for the Mormon church. Our bishop told us to come to Maui to get imu rocks because ours is old already, about 10 to 12 years old," Bright said, according to the report. "We use the rocks to cook kalua pig for the Boy Scouts to support them through our fundraisers. It was for a good cause."
The report said river rocks are valued for imu because they are porous and retain heat.
The two men who allegedly joined Bright are Ralph Chun, who is listed in the Oahu telephone book as the Kahaluu Ward bishop, and Victor Fonoimoana.
Phones rang unanswered at the church's Kahaluu Ward on Tuesday. A phone message left at Chun's home was not immediately returned.
A telephone listing for Fonoimoana could not immediately be found.
The alleged incident came on the Hawaii Superferry's second day of service.
The state's report appeared to underscore what some Superferry critics warned would happen when the interisland ferry service began: Oahu residents would go to the neighbor islands and take their rocks, fish and opihi.
The incident also came just before a Maui judge issued a temporary restraining order suspending service until the state conducted an environmental impact statement for the ferry's use of Kahului Harbor on Maui.
The judge later lifted that order after lawmakers passed a law allowing the ferry to sail while the state carried out environmental assessment. The ferry is currently operating between Honolulu and Kahului.