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Lawmakers consider more rigorous inspections of zip lines

Hawaii’s tourism industry could be changed by a proposal discussed today that requires more strict inspections of zip lines, which allow riders strapped to a harness and a cable to glide above forest canopies. 

The bill was prompted by a fatal accident last fall that left one man dead and another critically injured when a cable snapped, causing a rider to fall 200 feet.

The measure, sponsored by a group of Senate Democrats and heard by committees in each chamber, would require the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to conduct $100 inspections. But many in the industry question whether the proposal goes far enough. 

“A fee of $100 is incredibly unrealistic at the majority of courses and may set a bad precedent,” said Jeff Baldwin, operator of Piiholo Zipline. 

Baldwin, who is in favor of the measure, said inspections generally cost $5,000 and stretch across multiple days. He said he’s concerned the Labor Department “may be biting off more than they can chew.” 

The Labor Department opposed the measure as it was written, suggesting an audit might be more appropriate. 

Director Dwight Takamine raised concerns about not having experts who can conduct the inspections. He also said the department doesn’t have the funding to travel to remote neighbor island areas where most zip line tours are located.

There are more than a dozen companies that offer zip lines tours and government officials call it a “growing industry.”

Toni Marie Davis, executive director of Activities and Attractions Association of Hawaii, testified in support of the legislation, even as she told lawmakers that zip line deaths are rare. 

She told senators at a joint committee meeting that the Big Island death in September was the only time such a fatality has occurred in Hawaii. 

“Other than controversy in the rural south Hilo community with one specific zip line company, there are no issues, only irresponsible rhetoric,” she said.

Davis also noted that most Hawaii zip line companies are already in compliance, pointing out that zip line companies can’t get insurance without an inspection by a qualified specialist. 

Without insurance, zip line operators can’t join trade associations or get referrals from activity desks and hotels, she said. 

The three Senate committees deferred decision-making until Feb. 14. Two House committees deferred decision making on similar version of the bill Tuesday and will introduce a resolution calling for an audit.

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