Puna had seemingly been losing the battle in terms of infrastructure and development needed to keep up with the population explosion of the past few years. While there’s been lots of debating, proposals, plans… actually action, when it occurs, is typically slow and inadequate. So it came as a surprise to many when the 5th District was allotted millions in federal grants and other funds for the new Poho’iki/Isaac Hale Memorial Beach Park. Sure, it’s been almost 10 years from conception to adoption to…near completion, but Puna residents have learned to be patient.
Still, a little more patience will be required, ’cause word is for some brain-fart reason, instead of utilizing the obvious green and efficient solar, they opted for a gas/generator-run power supply, which will have to be turned on every night to operate the lights. And the park won’t be officially open until they fix a glitch (supposedly waiting on the proper part for the timer), much to the chagrin of the public ready to enjoy it… and the landscaping company who will not be getting paid any more money while having to maintain the park until it’s officially turned over to the county (which should occur by the end of the month).
In the meantime, councilwoman Emily Naeole isn’t slacking off on pushing her weight around, keeping the attention on Puna’s needs – an area she traces far back in her family lineage. Now, to go along with the new park, she’s hoping to get some lifeguards stationed at the beach – four to be exact; two on the Shacks side, two on the Bay/dock side. Luckily she has Mayor Kim on her side. Together they are working to expedite the request so it can be heard at the council meeting scheduled for next week.
For years, if you got into trouble in or around the waters at Poho’iki, you had to hope someone was looking out for you. Most injured would end up at “the red house”; asking Bird for vinegar for the vana (sea urchin) spines, peroxide and antibiotic cream for the reef cuts, a call to 911 for anything worse (and we know how long that takes). Even algae on the dock, created by hot water from nearby springs, creates a slippery situation that (without kind warning from locals) has enticed many to end up on their okole. Though it’s sprayed down more often these days, it’s just another aspect of repair and maintenance locals have thus far taken into their own hands to keep the park and dock up to standards. From monthly community clean-ups, to individuals replacing rocks and debris after storms, to general park stewardship, currently led by Emily’s brother Daniel Kealoha.
There has been much opposition for lifeguards, particularly on the dock side. The main concern being liability (due in large to stupidity on the part of unknowing newcomers and tourists) and the reasoning: if there are lifeguards, and someone is supposed to be there to save you, and you get injured, they (the lifeguards, and therefore the county) can be blamed for your injury. This worry seems to override the fact that as it stands there are many people out there, people are getting hurt, and the waters are just too crowded to not have a water safety officer on duty to prevent and assist in case of emergency.
Declaring that the “dock” is supposed to be used only as a “state boating facility” is not going to change the fact people are going to continue to use it as a swimming area. It also doesn’t change the fact the dock at Issac Hale is extremely dangerous (statistically the most dangerous in the state): A 90 degree turn at a blind corner usually entered at a high rate of speed into a “swimming” area used foremostly by young kids, as well as the place most of the surfers and bodyboarders enter and exit the water. When a boat is coming, the only warning is a chain of surfers and swimmers yelling “boat” to alert each other to get out of the way.
Most of the fisherman have used this dock for years (it’s the only one in the SE area of the island), and even on high surf days, when the fish are biting, they seem to have no problems. They know how to time it; how to maneuver the waves that must be ridden upon entrance or exiting the breakwall area. But we have seen some debacles. Boats have flipped, ended up on the reef, have had near collisions with people, and sometimes the water-goers don’t listen and get in the way, making it difficult for the boats to enter and tie down. There are also new, larger commercial boat charters, which recently started running out of Pohoiki that might add more congestion and inspire other tour services to do the same – increasing chances for calamities.
Though public servants/activists (and Pohoiki surfers) like Luana Jones have been working over the past few years to get the ramp modified to be more safe, not only for the kids but the boaters, she had until recently spoken upon deaf ears. Though it seems small, the Pohoiki boat ramp is categorized as the 2nd most used boat ramp in the state (!) and brings in enough catch to be the third largest fishery on the Big Island. The DLNR -who’s sole holding in the area is the ramp- must be getting a little nervous about future liability (one DLNR report referring to it as a “Sustainability Hotspot”). They have been holding public meetings regarding a rebuild. And actually, according to documents found online, the Pohoiki boat ramp and loading dock replacement project is currently in the final design and permitting stage by DLNR’s consultant firm Wilson Okamoto Corporation. Though Lingle, not Jones, will take the accolades:
“As part of the Lingle-Aiona Administration’s ongoing efforts to upgrade our small boat harbors statewide, we are planning to replace the existing Pohoiki boat ramp and loading dock due to their poor condition,” said Laura H. Thielen, DLNR chairperson. “These improvements will ensure accessibility, safety and comfort for residents and visitors who use this boating facility.”
Again, patience is likely in order, as it could be years before completion. Hopefully more care will be made than the roughneck versions the Army Corps of Engineers like to use while building breakwalls on Hawai’i Island (they built Poho’iki in the early ’70s, and Hilo’s no-flow breakwall design in 1930). But not everyone wants it to happen. As with the park project, there’s opposition. Concerned surfers worry the plans of reconstruction will ruin the surf break, while fishermen say it’s more worthwhile to create another swimming area (possibly next to the park, or just north of the park in the area where the high tide covers the road – unfortunately though, as far as I can tell, these are not part of the $4.8 million park improvement project). The idea of adding another boat ramp in Kapoho has also been bandied about.
Though vandalism as protest has occurred, the park looks great (yo, Earl, u’re da bomb!). Most of the problems people had was with the possibly unnecessary excess cutting of trees to make way for parking and paved (handicap access) paths. But much reaction was contemptuous acts of idiocy and aggression by the same people who would get wasted and blow up the port-o-potties as part of their juvenile “nothing better to do” hijinks. There are hopes, that as people see how fortuitous and lovely the park, there will be some respect – malama ‘aina. And that phase two can add more features to accommodate the many: a ballfield, basketball courts, dog park, walking trails, and as mentioned, a keiki swimming area. That these also inspire realization for the other “master plans” for Puna Parks and Recreation.
In the meantime, one can only hope the county doesn’t try to avoid the situation, or get scared off by liability issues, as it’s time to give Poho’iki the four lifeguard positions it has so obviously needed (at least since Kalapana was covered by lava almost two decades ago and Poho’iki became the primary easy-access surf spot in Puna).
Why else is this important? You look at the classifieds lately? The barely half-page of jobs listed in the Hilo newspaper is screaming the need for employment opportunities, especially for local youth. And there is a nice, long waiting list of qualified lifeguards dreaming an ocean safety position will open up.
And we’ll throw a little more dreaming in that direction, that we can even further increase the ocean safety employment opportunities (as suggested by some current lifeguards) by creating two daily shifts. Right now lifeguards work 9am-4pm, but by dawn waters start getting filled with surfers, and they don’t leave ’til dark. Can Hawai’i Island be groundbreaking and offer the best beach lifeguarding services in the country? Why not! (I mean, when they invented the concept of beach lifeguarding they considered beach-goer hours. But today, with the popularity of surfing from Hawai’i and throughout the world, the hours are completely different – and the waters more dangerous. The home of surfing should lead the way in protecting the surf community and offer this needed public service.). With the water safety recently being taken over by the Hawai’i County Fire Department, perhaps it is towards them some suggestions can be proffered.
In the meantime, we’ll just try to ignore some of the lack of modern ideas and innovations – like the use of a generator over solar power – and be happy with the attention and funding and improvements we are getting. And hope the pro-active yet patient Puna residents will find, ultimately, it was all worth the wait. xo