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Buoys mark safety zone at sandbar

No alcohol will be permitted at Ahu o Laka in Kaneohe Bay during three-day holiday weekends

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 1:51 a.m. HST, Jun 30, 2011

The state set six buoys in Kaneohe Bay yesterday to mark the no-alcohol zone imposed around the Ahu o Laka sandbar for holidays such as the upcoming Fourth of July three-day weekend.

It will be the first holiday under the new rules, which prohibit alcohol, disorderly conduct and being under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the "safety zone" established June 23 by the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

The emergency rule is in effect for 120 days and will be in effect only on three-day weekends such as Fourth of July and Labor Day.

William Aila, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the ban also could apply to the Admission Day holiday in August, which falls on a Friday this year.

"Traditionally, this (drinking) hasn't been a problem then," Aila said. "The intent is to return Ahu o Laka to a state of pleasantry for families."

Aila said the department's enforcement officers will patrol the area this weekend. Violators will be subject to a fine of at least $50 and as much as $1,000, and will be required to appear at an administrative hearing before the Land Board.

If the board determines that a criminal violation occurred, the case will be turned over to the Attorney General's Office.

Aila told reporters that the safety zone also includes another sandbar, known by local residents as "Portagee Sandbar," a spot where boaters also congregate for their parties.

Since there are no laws or regulations that ban drinking on boats, Aila acknowledged that boaters could still drink outside the zone and then come in.

"As long as they behave," he said.

Aila accompanied workers Wednesday from the department's Division of Boating and Recreation who dropped the six buoys that mark the perimeter.

State officials also plan to pass out fliers and maps before this weekend detailing the new rules.

Over the next 120 days, the Land Board will determine how drinking and other problems will be handled in the future. The options range from closing all access to the sandbar and converting it to a wildlife sanctuary to issuing permits to users.

At least one commercial snorkel and tour boat operator said the emergency rules are excessive.

"It was a few punks who ruined it for everyone," said Rallen Caya, who supervises Captain Bob's Picnic Sail. "My solution would be to conduct more DUI checks at the pier, since that is where all the fights have occurred."

Caya's company has a liquor license to serve alcohol on one specific sandbar (not Ahu o Laka) within the safety zone Monday through Saturday.

"We're not a booze cruise," Caya said. "We take families snorkeling and on cruises."

Aila said such legal alcohol sales are forbidden during three-day weekends.

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