Lifeguard bills moving

  • Hawaii Fire Department lifeguard Paul Tucker patrols the water on a rescue board at Hapuna Beach. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Two more bills seeking lifeguards for Kua Bay are moving in the state Legislature.

House Bill 558, co-introduced by Nicole Lowen (D-North Kona) and David Tarnas (D-South Kohala) among other off-island legislators, passed its first committee hearing Wednesday.

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The House Committee on Water Land and Hawaiian Affairs voted 5-0, with two members excused, to pass the bill. It next needs to secure a hearing before the Committee on Labor and then the Committee on Finance.

The bill is a companion bill to Senate Bill 654, introduced by Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D-North Hawaii). SB 654 passed its first committee, the Senate Committee on Water and Land on Feb. 1, and is awaiting a hearing to be scheduled before the Committee on Ways and Means.

SB654 and HB558 seek $400,000 to fund four full-time lifeguard positions at the beach and an additional $80,000 to fund a lifeguard tower, all-terrain vehicle, radios and rescue and protective equipment.

Another Senate Bill, SB875, co-introduced by Sens. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) and Stanley Chang (D-Oahu) with Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) as a co-sponsor, seeks unspecified funding for the DLNR to cover salaries and benefits for an unspecified number of lifeguard positions at Kua Bay.

The bill is set to be heard before a joint Senate Committee of Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs and Water and Land on Feb. 11.

The state has identified Kua Bay at Maniniowali as the next state park to receive lifeguard because “it has the most reported spinal cord injuries,” according to testimony submitted by DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case in regard to SB654. The department is in support of the bill, so long as it does not “replace or adversely impact priorities indicated in the Executive Budget request.”

The popular, yet perilous, North Kona beach once required a lengthy hike in or a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access until 2005 when a nearby developer completed paved access to and amenities at the site as part of a community benefit assessment. The state has since added improvements, most recently picnicking areas and concrete stairs to the south end of the beach.

In 2007, the site welcomed some 162,300 visitors annually. Numbers are still being updated.

From 2013-16, emergency medical services responded to 28 calls from the Kua Bay area with 19 of those calls resulting in hospitalization for traumatic injury. Since 2013, three people have died at the beach, according to state Department of Health statistics.

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The DLNR Division of State Parks already contracts with the counties to provide lifeguards at state four parks, including at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area on Hawaii Island. This session, the division is requesting another $1.5 million to cover increasing salary costs.

To submit testimony on any of the bills, visit capitol.hawaii.gov and enter the bill number in the bill status/measure status box. From there, select submit testimony.