Misuse Forces Bellows Closure
Wednesday - June 10, 2009
Bellows Beach in Waimanalo is one of the most pristine and most-used beach parks on Oahu. But the white, sandy beach at Bellows Air Force Station is closed to the public for the month of June.
Col. Robert Rice, commander of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, says it was a decision that had to be made because of ongoing illegal activity. He says something had to be done or “Oahu’s best beach park is in jeopardy.”
“Weekend users are illegally dumping old car batteries, rusty 55-gallon drums containing unknown materials, leaving fire rings on the beach damaging trees, not properly disposing of trash and driving through streams and on the beach,” says Rice.
But critics of the shutdown believe the Marine Corps is punishing the mass for the actions of a few.
“I’ve been on the neighborhood board for 18 years and I have never heard complaints of this sort at all,” says Wilson Ho, chairman of the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board. “We have never heard complaints from the military about drugs or about camping in our neighborhood board meetings.”
Rice says other illegal activities such as fights, large campfires and vehicle break-ins have forced the military to take proactive measures.
“These actions include setting up traffic and parking measures that will better allow for safe and enforceable parking, better marking of campsites and camping regulations, marking of firepits and increased enforcement,” he says.
“During this month we’re going to put up more barriers to ensure that people can’t get on to the beach with their vehicles and ATVs.”
While many support the decision, some community leaders believe the month-long closure is not justified. Bellows is already closed Monday through Thursday for military training. Some believe erecting barriers and new signs could be done in less than a week.
“Why do a mass punishment?” asks Andy Jamila Jr, a member of the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board. “We’ve been getting calls from Waipahu, Ewa, people who took out legal camping permits for their kids’group because, you know, June and July is when the kids are out of school.”
“This is the most-requested, the most-popular campsite in the state - not on Oahu, in the state of Hawaii,” says Ho. “With the downturn of the economy, a lot of people have elected not to travel and the next best thing for a family outing is to camp out.”
Rice says the military issues 50 camping permits every weekend. He says groups and families with permits for June will be first in line when the beach reopens on Fourth of July weekend.
“This is all based on the activity that has occurred over the last seven months and came to its head over the Memorial Day weekend, when two people were arrested,” says Rice. “One was for illegal drugs and another one was illegal dumping. We had a vehicle come in the middle of the night and attempt to dump a whole a trailer load of construction debris into the creek.”
Rice says when the beach reopens, park users will see more military and police presence.
“Normally the front gate is open on the weekends, but we manned it this weekend and passed out brochures that had all the rules for the beach,” says Rice. “We also noted from the gate that approximately 20 vehicles turned away rather than even coming into the gate when they saw a military policeman and a military working dog at the front gate.”
Community leaders welcome the increase of enforcement, but say closing the beach is unnecessary.
“It’s only a few bad apples, and now the whole island has to pay for their misdeeds,” says a frustrated Jamila. “Hawaii’s beaches should never be restricted from Hawaii’s people - never!”
Those beaches should also be respected by everyone who uses them - always.
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