Maunalua Needs A Harbor Master

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - April 20, 2011
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The bay offers the only boat launch between Ala Wai and Kaneohe. Ron Mizutani photo

Each year Hawaii law-makers consider dozens of measures aimed at protecting our precious ocean resources. Most receive fair consideration, while others never get past committees and die before any real public discussion. House Bill 1360 fell into the latter category, despite strong opinions it deserved more attention than it received.

The measure called for an appropriation from the general revenues of the state for a full-time harbor master at Maunalua Bay in Hawaii Kai. The legislation was centered on safety at Maunalua Bay, one of the busiest boat launch ramps and waterways on Oahu.

But as in so many fishing tales, this one got away. The measure was deferred back in February and never resurfaced.

Many would agree with the decision considering the state’s current financial crisis: Why add another expense and more labor costs?

In response, some may say, “Public safety.” Others may take it a step further and say, “What’s the cost of saving lives?”

Frequent users of Maunalua Bay believe introducing the idea of a harbor master opens discussion of much-needed enforcement and monitoring. The bay is used by swimmers, bodyboarders, surfers, paddlers, fishermen, divers, jet skiers, water skiers, paddleboarders, parasailers, and users of motorized boats and sailboats. Whew. Yes, it is crowded. On some weekends, over-crowded.

It is also the only public launch ramp between the Ala Wai and Kaneohe Bay, and many commercial businesses from Waikiki utilize the bay. Escort boats in long-distance canoe races also launch from Maunalua Bay. Traffic is heavy.

A large majority of bay users are responsible. That said, there are many rule-breakers. Over the years, boats have been abandoned in the pristine bay, divers have shared stories of close calls, and boaters have reported cases of irresponsible boaters abusing rules and regulations at ramps.

On Oct. 4, 2009, 17-year-old Keahihoku Lum was killed after being struck by a boat while diving in an area off China Walls near Portlock. Lum’s diving partner and good friend was also struck but survived.

Bay users were outraged over the incident. One even compared the popular recreation area to the H-1 freeway.The difference is that there are no enforcers of rules and regulations on the bay because there simply aren’t enough DLNR officers to patrol the land and coastline on a consistent basis.

Shortly after the deadly accident, state Rep. Gene Ward sponsored a town hall meeting to discuss solutions on enforcement and monitoring. It got heated, and many walked away wondering if anything would develop from the community’s input. Ward eventually introduced HB 1360 along with Rep. Mark Hashem and Rep. Barbara Marumoto.

Fisherman Lionel Keahi submitted written testimony in support of the measure, citing the rapid deterioration of the bay because of “persistent neglect and abuse.” Keahi believes a harbor master would help restore the “health of the bay in the water and out” like other harbor masters do at Sand Island and Kaneohe Bay. There were others who submitted written testimonies including the family and friends of Lum, the Farrington High School student who was killed in ‘09.

The DLNR also submitted testimony - against the measure. The letter from chairman William Aila stated the department did not support the measure because it may conflict with the executive biennium budget request. The measure was deferred.

Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess. But the issue is out there, and everyone agrees something needs to be done.

Too many lives are at stake for all of us to sit idle.

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