Sunday | October 22, 2017
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No lifeguards for Kua Bay

KAILUA-KONA — A local lawmaker and fire chief said they will continue to advocate for state funds to put lifeguards at Kua Bay.

A bill that would have done just that died in a Senate committee this past session — a few steps short of final approval in the multi-layered legislative process. So there won’t be funding for four lifeguards at the popular North Kona beach, where there have been three fatal drownings, three near drownings and several other serious injuries between 2008 and mid-December.

But despite Rep. Cindy Evans’ third effort to fund lifeguards at the northern end of Kekaha Kai State Park, this most recent iteration failed to get a hearing in the Senate’s Committee on Ways and Means even after approval from the House of Representatives.

Had the Ways of Means approved it, the final step would have followed, a vote by the full Senate.

“I’m not going to give up on bringing attention to the issue,” Evans said.

“Our state parks are challenged right now because more and more people are using our state parks and more and more people are using our natural resources in Hawaii.”

Evans noted that there are competing interests for state funds, with requests for money to support the state’s natural resources, such as managing trails, beaches and combating invasive species.

“So there’s a lot of competing interests,” Evans said. “So, you know, we can’t do all things and we just didn’t make the cut.”

Issues like invasive species took lots of energy and focus — “which was great,” the representative said — as did homelessness and housing, as well as collective bargaining.

“And so with the negotiations that the governor did, all the bargaining units got salary increases and the teachers got a nice salary increase,” Evans said, “which I think was needed also, but there’s only so much money in the budget, and so this just didn’t rise high enough on the priority list.”

After the state’s House of Representatives passed the proposal, it received a referral to the Committee on Ways and Means in March, where it stayed. The session adjourned May 4.

Still, Evans said she felt this year got more people educated about the need for lifeguards at Kua Bay and more people are speaking out in support of the proposal.

“So I stay hopeful,” she said, “and I think we just need to keep our message that it’s something we need to take care of, because this state park is highly used and … this is one of those beaches where I’ve heard too many stories, too many people saying this is a beach that can be very dangerous for people that don’t know how to recreate in the ocean.”

Gerald Kosaki, Hawaii Fire Department special operations battalion chief, said he was disappointed with the bill’s fate.

“It’s very important, I think, because of the improvements that were made to the area,” he said. “It’s a beautiful beach. There’s parking easily accessible and a lot of people go there.”

But, he said, that beauty isn’t without danger, particularly when waves break onto a shallow sand bar or shelf, putting swimmers at risk of being tossed against the land or swept out by a riptide or current.

And the presence of lifeguards can drastically affect an endangered swimmers’ chances at survival.

 

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