Kua Bay bill still swimming

  • Beachgoers play in the waves at Kua Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)
  • Beachgoers play in the waves at Kua Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)

KAILUA-KONA — A bill that would bring lifeguards to Kua Bay remains alive in the state House after securing a key hearing before the Committee on Finance.

The hearing was set Tuesday for the 13-member House committee to take up the bill at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Honolulu. There are two Big Island representatives on the committee, Nicole Lowen (D-North Kona) and Chris Todd (D-Hilo).

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“I’m glad it’s still moving,” said Lowen, who noted that ultimately the decision, particularly for funding bills, will ride on later budget negotiations.

To cross over to the Senate, the bill must get a favorable recommendation from the finance committee and pass a third reading in the House by March 8.

House Bill 2044 seeks unspecified monies for fiscal year 2018-19 for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to hire four full-time lifeguards to watch over the bay within Kekaha Kai State Park.

It would also provide $80,000 in general funds that fiscal year for a lifeguard tower, radios, protective equipment and an all-terrain vehicle.

In testimony submitted for an earlier hearing, the department said staffing the four positions at Kua Bay would cost about $340,355 annually. It also needs more money to cover increases to its current contracts with the county to provide

Attempts to secure lifeguards at Kua Bay have been pursued a handful of times over the years. Last year, a similar House bill made it to the Senate, but stalled when it did not secure a necessary committee hearing. It was carried over to the 2018 state Legislature but has not moved thus far.

Meanwhile, a similar bill is seeking unspecified monies for the DLNR to position lifeguards at state and county parks throughout Hawaii. House Bill 2097, of which Lowen is also a co-introducer, still needs to secure a hearing before the finance committee to move forward.

Looking to the future, situations like we have at Kua Bay lacking lifeguards should never be a problem in the first place, said Lowen. It’s “irresponsible,” she said, to open access without considering public safety.

House Resolution No. 28 and House Concurrent Resolution No. 34 offered Tuesday seek to address that issue by urging the department to “assess potentially hazardous ocean conditions at beach parks and ensure that safety concerns are addressed prior to undertaking access improvements that will increase use.”

Since making the 4×4 trail into a paved access road in the mid-2000s, use of the bay has increased. Based on 2007 numbers, more than 162,000 visit the bay per year. DLNR, which is updating those numbers, says those numbers are typically much higher now.

“Everyone has always known Kua Bay has a really rough shore break and is a very dangerous place on a high surf day,” said Lowen, who is among the 18 co-introducers. “It seems irresponsible they would pave the road and open it up, and the state has yet to provide funding for the lifeguards. Those two things should happen at the same time.”

“It’s basically just an invitation for people to go down there,” she said.

According to DLNR Deputy Administrator Robert Masuda, early planning for Kekaha Kai State Park, especially Kua Beach, received extensive community input in its evolution to today’s status. At the time, ocean safety may not have been raised as a significant concern since it was mainly by local residents with greater skills and awareness of ocean conditions.

“It has since grown in popularity and visitation, given its attractiveness, and extensive social media references. Our concern with the large number of visitors is very similar to the concerns expressed by Rep. Lowen. We share her concern for safety for residents and visitors. In the case of Kua Bay, Division of State Parks strongly supports adding lifeguards and any other public safety measures, but we have not received the necessary funds to deploy them,” he said in a statement.

The resolutions also ask the department do a better job providing information warning about hazardous conditions on its website and printed materials.

According to the resolutions and a check of recent brochures, the state notes hazardous conditions such as “dangerous rip currents and pounding shore breaks during periods of high surf. Waves of 3 feet are for experts …” at Hapuna Beach State Recreation but for Kekaha Kai State Park, it notes the Kua Bay section “has been developed with a paved access road, parking lot, and comfort station with outdoor shower. Picnic tables available.”

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There is no mention of currents, high surf or other hazards at Kua Bay.

“The resolutions provide practical concerns for the safety of park users and we believe that these concerns apply to the suite of our natural recreational areas including trails, streams, shorelines and coastal waters. An effective educational and outreach program should be coordinated with County and State and community representatives,” said Alan Carpenter, Division of State Parks assistant administrator.

  1. Throb February 21, 2018 5:37 pm

    HFD would be the department providing LG’s, not DLNR…


  2. jim williams February 21, 2018 10:19 pm

    If this goes through, where will the life guard stand be located? After a good swell, most if not all of the sand is gone.


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