Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Sandbar restrictions approved

By Rosemarie Bernardo


Banning alcohol and drugs at the Kaneohe sandbar during three-day weekends is a good start, according to some regular users.

"They needed to take a first step. This is a first step in trying to make it safe for everybody," said Andy Jamila Jr., who has been frequenting the site, Ahu o Laka, since 1960, when his grandfather first took him there at age 5.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources unanimously approved an emergency rule to ban alcohol and drugs and restrict disorderly conduct at Ahu o Laka during three-day weekends that include state holidays. The rule is imposed for a 120-day period to include the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends.

Violators face a fine of $50 up to $1,000 and administrative penalties.

Signs will be posted at the harbor to inform users of the new rule. Fliers also will be passed out at yacht clubs, and conservation enforcement officers will remind boaters in the days leading up to the Fourth of July weekend, said Ed Underwood, administrator of the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.

The emergency rule follows the death of Nelden Torres, 26, who was involved in a fight at Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor during Memorial Day weekend. More than 200 boats and 500 people congregated at the sandbar that day, crowding the harbor as people loaded and unloaded their boats.

Yesterday more than 50 people packed the meeting room at the Kalanimoku Building to address the worsening problem at the sandbar. Those who testified complained of excessive alcohol use, overcrowding and fights that primarily occur during three-day weekends.

Underwood submitted a draft to the board to ban alcohol and drugs for all weekends and holidays during the 120-day period. However, based on public testimony, board Chairman William Aila Jr. said, "It appears that most of the significant incidents is occurring on the three-day weekends."

Ahu o Laka is unique from other offshore islands as it was excluded from the designation of wildlife sanctuaries on offshore islands in 1932. Alcohol use and disorderly conduct are restricted on those offshore islands under regulations of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

"Because (Ahu o Laka) was never designated as a wildlife sanctuary, it sits out there in this legal limbo land," Aila said. "Having said that, though, there are rules and regulations that apply to county that on face value appears that there could be enforcement on. We have to take a look at how these different rules impact the underlying jurisdiction."

During the 120-day period, members will look at existing rules to see what can be done about dogs, noise and other concerns brought up in testimony Thursday and see whether they apply to Ahu o Laka.

"If not, we'll look at how the rules should be amended in order to address those particular concerns," he said.

On Tuesday a woman suffered deep lacerations when she was attacked by a 130-pound bull mastiff while setting an anchor at the sandbar.

Some users also suggested a permitting process for boaters to access the sandbar. That would generate funding for additional conservation enforcement officers.

Understaffing has been an issue due to funding constraints. There are approximately 94 enforcement officers statewide, 38 of them on Oahu.

As of May 31 there were 23 vacant enforcement officer positions. Aila said his department hopes to fill the vacancies, but with restrictions on general funds in the next fiscal year, it's unknown whether they will be able to do so.

Leialoha "Rocky" Kaluhiwa, who lives directly across from Ahu o Laka, said the ban on three-day weekends is a steppingstone to improve safety at the sandbar. After observing inebriated boaters crashing into each other, numerous fights and dogs roaming the island, Kaluhiwa said she would support an alcohol ban to include all weekends.

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