Kua Bay lifeguard funding advances

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Kua Bay may get its lifeguards.

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Kua Bay may get its lifeguards.

Legislation to fund salaries and equipment for ocean safety officers at the state beach advanced out of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Rep. Cindy Evans, D-Kohala, North Kona, said the proposal got a boost at the Capitol from a Hawaii County Council resolution calling for services at the increasingly crowded but often dangerous North Kona bay.

“We understand the need for lifeguards at heavily-used state beaches,” said Evans, the sponsor of House Bill 527. “Now we’re ready to work with the Senate. I hope to convince them that West Hawaii beaches are really for the whole island.”

Evans said she has been working with Department of Land and Natural Resource officials and was able to use the resolution, emails from concerned residents, media accounts and information from the Hawaii County Fire Department to make the case for the guards to Committee on Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke.

Kua Bay was among the top 10 most popular beaches in the U.S. last year, according to user reviews on TripAdvisor. The bay has strong rip tides and sudden shore breaks that can cause spinal injury. There were seven cases of drowning, near drowning or cardiac arrest at Kua Bay and nearby Makalawena last year, according to fire department data.

Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said that improved access to Kua Bay has increased its popularity, which in turn has led to a public safety issue.

“It can be a dangerous place and we need to get lifeguards there,” said Eoff, who spearheaded the resolution.

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The state does not have lifeguards of its own, but instead contracts with the counties for those services. Each island has one state beach staffed by county ocean safety officers. On Hawaii Island, the popular but often dangerous Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area has lifeguards.

In testimony, Carty Chang, interim chairman of the DLNR, supported the Kua Bay measure, as long as it did not replace or take away from other priorities in the department’s budget request.

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