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Proposal calls for zip line study, not regulation

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    Shown is the Honolii Mountain Outpost gate of the zipline operation belonging to Kapohokine Adventures. A worker was killed and another critically injured when a zipline tower collapsed this morning on Hawaii island.

Owners of Hawaii’s popular zip lines, under increased scrutiny since a man plunged to his death last year, won’t be placed under state supervision — at least for now.

Lawmakers watered down a bill Thursday calling for the state to take oversight of safety for the tourist attractions that send thrill-seekers gliding along cables strung high above rural areas of Hawaii at speeds approaching 30 mph.

The amended version of the bill calls for a study, rather than state regulation, which means the industry will continue being responsible for its own safety regulations.

Until state lawmakers can study the issue further, zip line companies will need to file proof of insurance with the state insurance commissioner.

The legislation is a response to last fall’s fatal zip line accident on the Big Island, which killed a construction worker who fell 200 feet to the ground while adjusting a cable. Another worker was critically injured when a tower collapsed at the same time.

The state does not regulate the zip line industry, and as the Labor Department told lawmakers, it does not have inspectors on staff who are qualified to do so. 

However, the department, which is still investigating the Big Island accident, also questioned whether zip line and canopy tour operators should inspect themselves. Owners of boilers and pressure vessels — including amusement rides — must meet high standards to inspect the equipment they use.

Industry representatives have testified on the measure several times this session, generally in favor of regulation. They already have to go through stringent inspection processes to get insurance. Without adequate insurance, companies can’t receive promotion or referrals through state activity desks and hotels.

Zip lines take riders through the forest canopy, as high as 280 feet above ground, said Kandalin Deponte, manager of Big Island Eco Adventures in Kohala.

Last year’s fatal accident at a different zip line company put a damper on the whole industry, Deponte noted.

She pointed out, however, that it occurred while zip lines were being tested. There were no guests “zipping” at the time, nor would there have been because it wasn’t ready, she said.

“Safety is our number one issue. Everyone needs to wear a helmet. Everyone needs to wear a full body harness. Once you get in that, you know you aren’t getting out,” Deponte said.

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