Kua Bay lifeguards top priority for Hawaii County

  • Hapuna Beach is the largest white sand beach on Hawaii Island. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii County Lifeguards stay vigilant at Hapuna Beach. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Every year, representatives of the state’s four county councils get together to draft a wish list of priorities for the upcoming session of the state Legislature. This year, Honolulu has two proposals, Kauai has five, but Hawaii County has just one request — lifeguards for Kua Bay.

The popular Kua Bay is part of Kekaha Kai State Park and under the state’s jurisdiction. As it has for the past two years, the county is again asking the state Legislature, when it convenes in January, to provide funding for a lifeguard stand and four lifeguards.

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“Public health is our top priority and having lifeguards at this heavily visited location will be essential to save lives and prevent injuries,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, the county’s representative in the Hawaii State Association of Counties.

In an unrelated action, the county administration is also asking the County Council to add three new lifeguard positions for Hapuna Beach State Park, using money provided by the state. There are currently six state-funded positions at the park, county Finance Director Deanna Sako said.

“Positions are needed to ensure adequate coverage,” Sako said. “There’s an increased use at the park, and we want to be sure there’s adequate coverage. We’re grateful to the state for providing funding.”

Hapuna Beach lifeguards say they’ve been especially short-staffed since the erection of a third lifeguard stand at the beach. With winter coming, along with more dangerous swells and more beachgoers, they’d especially like to strengthen their ranks.

The council Finance Committee will take up Resolution 739 for the additional Hapuna Beach lifeguards at 1:15 p.m. Thursday in council chambers in Hilo.

It’s been more difficult to get funding for Kua Bay, which needs a lifeguard tower and startup equipment in addition to lifeguard positions.

The council will take up Resolution 733, approving the HSAC list of eight proposals, including Kua Bay lifeguards, when it meets at 9 a.m. Friday.

In the past decade, there have been at least three fatal drownings, three near drownings and 10 spinal cord injuries, as well as cardiac arrests, shark sightings, other serious and minor injuries, and numerous distressed swimmers at Kua Bay, according to a resolution sponsored by HSAC on behalf of Hawaii County.

The Hawaii Fire Department’s Ocean Safety Division estimates annual operational costs at $321,696 to staff a two-person tower seven days a week, a total of four lifeguards with annual salaries and benefits of $80,424 each.

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Startup costs for equipment is estimated at $60,000 for a lifeguard tower, $8,000 for an all-terrain vehicle, $8,000 for radios, $3,000 for rescue equipment and $1,000 for personal protective equipment.

That totals $401,696 the first year, with an annual budgeted amount of $325,696.

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