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Big crowds avoid Kaneohe sandbar as alcohol ban kicks in

By Michael Tsai

LAST UPDATED: 10:37 a.m. HST, Sep 3, 2012

From the minute boater Ed Meixsell pulled into the Heeia Kea Boat Harbor Sunday morning, he knew it wasn’t going to be a typical three-day weekend at the former party central known as the Kaneohe sandbar.

“We came first thing this morning and the parking lot was empty,” said Meixsell, who lives nearby. “The peak is usually around 2 p.m. and there are usually at least a hundred boats out by there. Today, there were maybe 20. It’s definitely the ban.”

In July, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources imposed a three-year ban on alcohol at the sandbar — Ahu o Laka — during the Labor Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day weekends. The state will monitor the effectiveness of the ban during the three-year period.

DLNR previously instituted a 120-day emergency ban on alcohol at the sandbar last year following the death of a 26-year-old man who was involved in a fight at the harbor.

“They made it too extreme,” said Meixsell. “Personally, I like the party atmosphere. I didn’t see any of the problems they said existed. But it is what it is. I don’t agree (with the ban) but I will abide by it.”

That seemed to be the consensus of the few recreational boaters who did make it out the sandbar Saturday.

“Someone died, so I understand them wanting to do something up to a point,” said Kanoa Burgess, a frequent visitor to the sandbar. “I just think they went too far.”

Burgess said a typical three-day weekend would find cars overflowing the parking lot and visitors and locals alike lining the pier in hopes of catching a ride with a departing boat.

By late afternoon Saturday, only a half-dozen boats remained near the sandbar.

“It’s like a desert out there,” said Kaneohe resident Kaipo Shiroma. “I think the ban is a waste of money. They could have avoided this by enforcing the laws they already have for underage drinking, which is the real problem out here. Why stop local people from having a good time because of the stupidity of some young kids? I think DLNR is just trying to make their own job easier, even if it means taking away something that people have enjoyed safely for a long time.”

A DLNR spokeswoman said that, as off late Sunday afternoon, no citations had yet been issued at the sandbar this Labor Day weekend.

At the Mokuluas off Lanikai, meanwhile, state officers cited two people for bringing dogs to the bird sanctuary, and a camper was told to leave, she said.

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