By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii County Council members each agreed Tuesday that Puna residents need a safe place to swim at Isaac Hale Beach Park.
The council members, during a meeting of the Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development, voted all in favor of a resolution seeking an alternative to the Pohoiki boat ramp as a swimming area.
The ramp offers the only area of calm, shallow water at the park and is used mostly by keiki. Swimming there is prohibited but many ignore such rules in order to stay out of the surf.
“There is nowhere else to go, so the kids like it,” Puna resident Todd Grant said at the park Monday.
How a safer alternative could be created and by whom remains to be determined.
First, there would likely be a feasibility study, and the resolution requests help from the state Legislature and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for financing such a report.
Still, the resolution, which needs to be voted on by the council outside of the committee process to be adopted, received strong support from testifiers who said it’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously injured.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Oshi Simsarian.
Mark Clawson called the resolution “long overdue.”
Puna Councilman Zendo Kern, who introduced the resolution, said the situation has gotten more dangerous over the years as use of the ramp by boaters has increased.
“What’s happening down there is tensions are occurring,” he said.
“(Swimmers and boaters) are almost going at odds with each other, and it’s challenging.”
Other council members voiced support for the resolution, and some said some action needs to be taken as soon as possible.
“I’m all for this but I wish it wouldn’t take years to do something about this,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha.
About 340 people have also signed a petition calling for a designated, calm swimming area, Luana Jones told the council.
Jones proposed an area, which she said used to be a lagoon, makai of the county road for a man-made pool.
Council members noted jurisdictional issues may provide a few hurdles.
The coastline is owned and managed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be needed to approve any dredging.
“It’s going to take the coordination of multiple agencies,” Kern said.
Jurisdictional lines have already complicated the current situation, council members noted.
While the park is owned by the county, the ramp itself is on DLNR property.
The result has been either ineffective or absent enforcement, testifiers said, with swimmers and boaters largely regulating themselves.
“As a county, we can’t lifeguard an area that says, ‘No swimming,’” Kern said.
The councilman said he wants to see all sides “come together” to find a solution.
“We need to have a pono swimming area at Pohoiki,” he said.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.