County beach parks reopen today; Kim apologizes for misunderstanding

  • KIM

County beach parks finally reopen today after an apparently premature announcement Monday caused confusion among would-be beachgoers.

Mayor Harry Kim announced Monday that the county would “reopen its beach parks islandwide effective (Tuesday),” but parks remained closed Tuesday — to the dismay of several park visitors.

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Kim apologized for the confusion, explaining a policy to reopen county parks first required approval from Gov. David Ige and the state attorney general.

“When the governor made his emergency proclamation, it sets the policies for how we handle COVID-19 statewide,” Kim said. “And it tells the county governments that any changes to those policies that reduce restrictions must get the stamp of approval from the governor and attorney general.”

Kim said the governor approved on Tuesday a policy allowing Hawaii County beach parks to reopen. The mayor clarified that the parks would not reopen until today and conceded that the misunderstanding was an error on his part.

Although the confusion caused by the miscommunication lasted only a day, some have been critical about a perceived lack of consistent communication between Kim, Ige and the Big Island population.

Kona Rep. Nicole Lowen said her office receives daily calls from residents confused by seemingly contradictory rules regarding beach parks.

“I think if you asked an average person which parks are under the jurisdiction of the county or the state, they would have no idea,” Lowen said, adding that the rules regarding what activities are allowed at county and state beach parks have been poorly conveyed.

Since March, county and state parks have been closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, while beach parks were closed, beaches themselves remained open for exercise purposes, leading to a confusing system where people were allowed to travel through parks to swim in the ocean but not allowed to loiter in the park or on the beach.

The scenario became more complicated earlier this month when certain state and county parks reopened on a limited basis for “mobile activities” only. State parks that reopened still prohibit activities “such as parties, picnics, gatherings, setting up on the beach and camping,” but allow hiking and ocean use; the county parks that reopened were all “walking parks,” Kim said and had similar restrictions.

The confusion did not stop some from taking their exercise at the beach, however.

“I thought the park would be open today (Tuesday), but I’m just here to swim so it doesn’t really matter,” said Ty Medeiros, who visited Richardson Ocean Park on Tuesday.

“We’re so fortunate to be able to have the beaches during this time,” agreed Robert Ely, who also was at Richardson Ocean Park on Tuesday. “I mostly use the parks to swim, but it’ll be nice when they open fully.”

The newly reopened beach parks do not include Hakalau Beach Park and Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole Park, which remain closed for improvement work. They do, however, include the long-closed Kolekole Beach Park, which was shuttered in 2017 because of lead contamination in the soil.

Kim said most of Kolekole is available to the public, although certain areas of high contamination are still cordoned off.

All reopened parks will be open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. and will be subject to several restrictions. These restrictions include a prohibition on groups of more than 10 people, a requirement that all park visitors who are not members of the same household remain at least 6 feet apart from each other and a prohibition on all commercial activities within the parks.

The restrictions also state that all gathering spaces within the parks — including pavilions, playgrounds, sports courts and fields and others — will remain closed until further notice, and that all permits and reservations for use within the reopened parks are canceled until further notice.

Here are the reopened county parks:

• Kahakai Park

• Isaac Kepo‘okalani Hale Beach Park

• Honoli‘i Beach Park

• Kolekole Gulch Park

• Carlsmith Beach Park

• Happiness Gardens

• Hilo Bayfront Beach Park

• James Kealoha Beach Park

• Kanakea Pond

• Lehia Beach Park

• Leleiwi Beach Park

• Wai‘olena Beach Park

• Wai‘uli Beach Park

• Lili‘uokalani Gardens

• Moku Ola (Coconut Island)

• Onekahakeha Beach Park

• Reeds Bay Beach Park

• Richardson Ocean Park

• Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park

• Waipi‘o Lookout

• Kapa‘a Beach Park

• Keokea Beach Park

• Mahukona Beach Park

• Mahukona Wharf

• Hono‘uli Beach

• Spencer Park at ‘Ohai‘ula Beach

• Kahalu‘u Beach Park

• Kuemanu Heiau

• La‘aloa Bay Beach Park

• Magic Sands Beach Park

• Pahoehoe Beach Park

• Wai‘aha Bay Beach Park

• Kailua Park

• Kohanaiki Beach Park

• Ho‘okena Beach Park

• Manini Point

• Miloli‘i Beach Park

• Kawa Bay

• Honu‘apo

• Whittington Beach Park

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Staff photographer Kelsey Walling contributed to this story.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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