Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Many pleased with quieter, safer sandbar

Officers will assess the new rules' efficacy through the weekend

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Most of the hardcore partiers stayed away from Ahu o Laka, the Kaneohe sandbar, on the first day of temporary rules banning alcohol and drugs at the renowned holiday party spot.

That was just fine for the people aboard the 30 to 40 boats that had traveled the mile from Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor to the sandbar Saturday. Most sat in their boats, drinking soda and talking story or wading in the warm, clear waters.

Ewa Beach resident Craig Dwyer had rented a recreational boat to take his family and some friends to the sandbar Saturday on a hunch that the crowds would stay away.

Dwyer, 41, said he doesn't drink when his family comes to the sandbar, and doesn't see why others do.

"Why do you want to come out, get all rowdy and drunk, and miss all this?" he said, gesturing to the blue horizon reflecting off the water behind him.

Under the temporary "emergency" rules in effect on three-day weekends the next four months, alcohol and drug use are prohibited at the sandbar and in a "safety zone" around the most popular portion of the sandbar. Disorderly conduct is also prohibited, and people are not allowed to enter the zone while intoxicated.

As of 6 p.m. Saturday, law enforcement officers from the state Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement had issued two administrative citations for possessing alcohol in the zone and several warnings. Four boats were told to return to shore because of improper equipment.

But sandbar regulars and law enforcement officials said crowds usually grow, and grow rowdier, gradually during three-day weekends, and they were taking a wait-and-see approach to the effectiveness of the new rules.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources is in the process of establishing permanent rules. Emergency rules were issued as a stopgap measure after Nelden Torres, 26, died following a fight at the small-boat harbor during Memorial Day weekend. More than 200 boats and 500 people gathered at the sandbar that weekend and DLNR security personnel said they broke up numerous fights.

The scene was much different Saturday, said Kaneohe resident Brian Cox, who takes his 23-foot Chris-Craft to the sandbar nearly every weekend that the weather is nice. Cox, 46, has mixed feelings about the new rules.

"Hopefully, it will discourage the wrong crowd to stay away," Cox said. He acknowledged that he and some friends have had alcohol at the sandbar but emphasized that they have done so responsibly. Cox said he intends to join up with some friends just outside the zone, and use a dinghy to shuttle the kids to the sandbar if they want to go there to play.

He said he hopes the rules will do some good, but feels they would not have been necessary had DLNR stepped up enforcement of existing rules and beefed up its presence at previous holiday weekends.

Kahaluu native Lynsey Bow, whose family has been going out to the sandbar once a month for years, was also pleased that rowdier crowds have been encouraged to stay away. When there are too many people, the water gets murky and "it's just not a comfortable and relaxing environment," she said.

Randy Awo, acting division chief, said the new rules are designed "to restore Ahu o Laka to a place that's safe and a place that families will want to return to with their children."

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