In Our Voices for Saturday — February 11, 2006

The recent double drowning at Anini Beach and the drowning last month at Donkey Beach have left some wondering if any person or agency or governing body is liable for contributing to the conditions that may have caused the deaths.

Exactly who is responsible when a death occurs at one of our beaches?

Letters and phone calls to The Garden Island seem to indicate some believe it may be the responsibility of local government to post signs, require access to remote beaches and provide life-guards at every stretch of beach on the island.

Just one death avoided makes it all worth the cost, so goes the argument.

But the reality of the situation is a far cry from what many in the community, many in county government and most guarding our beaches would like to see.

The island’s beaches are split into two jurisdictions, county and state. The county beaches are well manned and emergency situations arising at them have a relatively quick response time. State beaches on the other hand have lost funding for lifeguard protection over the last several years.

That means if you are swimming anywhere besides Kekaha, Salt Pond, Po’ipu, Lydgate, Kealia, Hanalei and Haena beach parks, you are swimming without lifeguards watching over you.

One comment suggested homeowners or the county should have posted “no swimming” signs at Anini Beach.

Kaua’i Ocean Safety Bureau officials say there are signs at that beach warning of dangerous currents and hazardous conditions.

Act 190 spells out the legal requirements for the state and county to post signs warning of hazardous natural conditions. The act came out of the Session Laws of Hawai’i in 1996 and spells out a legally adequate warning sign system for state and county public beach parks.

Act 190 only applies to public beach parks though. The act, in one fell swoop, exempts the county and state from having to warn of dangerous natural conditions at beaches outside of public beach parks.

On Kaua’i that means the sign law only applies to the same county beaches listed above plus the few on the Island under the jurisdiction of the state: Ahukini, Polihale, the Wailua River and the Na Pali Coast. That leaves a lot of leftover beach that doesn’t legally require signs. Beachgoers venturing to those beaches need to be aware of conditions and situations specific to that area. Shorebreaks and ledges can be deadly to the unaware.

The double drowning Sunday at Anini was a tragic affair. Anini Beach is one of the safest swimming beaches when the conditions are calm, so there is no need to post “no swimming” signs most of the time. The treacherous conditions warning signs do remain posted at Anini year-round, though.

The day of the double drowning, the conditions were more than treacherous.

The fact that the surf was 30 feet plus that day should have raised red flags in the minds of most potential swimmers. Apparently though, that was not sign enough to indicate it was not the best day for a swim.

It is hard to comprehend how anyone other than the person making the decision could be held liable for that decision.

The woman who made the decision to go swimming that day was not technically swimming. She was on some sort of flotation device. When the current took her, the two men who went for the swim to save her, lost their lives. Would signs have stopped them?

Probably not.

When another human being is in trouble, people are going to react. And that is exactly what happened.

Anini Beach is not manned by lifeguards as state funding cuts over the last several years have eliminated those positions, so that further exacerbated the situation.

Drownings are accidents. And accidents are, by their very nature, unpredictable. No amount of warning put out by homeowners or a county or state bureaucracy would have changed the events of that day.

Those that swim and enjoy the beaches and the remoteness of some of them, must carry some of the burden of blame.

Government can’t save us from ourselves.

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