Water safety on minds of many

HANALEI — Water safety concerns have not just been thoughts in the minds of a North Shore group — they’re doing something about it.

Ground was broken in a light mist Friday for a new building at the County’s Hanalei Baseyard by members of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay who were joined by county officials.

“This will save a lot of money, and hopefully, a lot of lives,” said Ming Fang, former president for the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay. “We estimate that with the building here, it will save the county at least 500 hours per jet ski.”

Fang was at the helm of the Rotary Club when plans for this building materialized about four years ago.

Kalani Vierra, the head of the Kaua‘i Ocean Safety Bureau, said the building is definitely a big thing for the lifeguard program.

“Hanalei has, roughly speaking, almost double the amount of responses than the combined total of all the other towers,” Vierra said. “In one year, there were 90 incidents which Hanalei Water Safety Officers responded to. This means that this is almost twice the amount of all the other incidents from around the island.”

Vierra said lifeguards from the Hanalei tower cover beaches from Pila‘a to Kalalau, a span of approximately 30 miles.

He said one of the advantages of having the building at the Hanalei baseyard is easy access to equipment that would otherwise be cut off during times the highway is closed due to the overflowing of the Hanalei River.

Currently, equipment for the Hanalei tower is stored at the Hanalei Fire/Police Station located in Princeville.

Vierra added that with the addition of covered storage space for the rescue equipment, the lifespan of equipment would also be prolonged, thereby saving the county additional money by not having to replace aging equipment so frequently.

But, more importantly, Vierra said, “Being located next to the beach creates better response times.”

Vierra credits the Rotary Clubs of Kaua‘i with stepping forward to help address some of the water safety concerns of the island.

“This afternoon (Friday), the Rotary Club of Kapa‘a will debut a water safety video at the baggage carousel at the Aloha Airlines end of Lihu‘e Airport,” Vierra said. “This will get information on water safety to incoming visitors as they get off the plane. It’s a good start for water safety.”

Vierra explained that several years ago, there was a need for a storage facility for the Po‘ipu tower, and he took it upon himself to try and raise the funds for the facility.

That was when he met D.Q. Jackson, a member of the Rotary Club of Po‘ipu who took the issue back to the organization.

What resulted was the Rotary Club of Po‘ipu setting a precedent as they coordinated the construction of a water safety building on the grounds of the Koloa Fire Station located at the gateway to Po‘ipu.

It was the starting point for the Rotary Clubs’ involvement with water safety, a major concern among island residents and visitors as the concern for the Northshore facility filtered from Po‘ipu to Hanalei.

“This facility will definitely enhance water safety issues,” Vierra said. “It will help save lives.”

“This event is a milestone in the community and government partnership to design, fund, and build the permanent facility,” said incoming president of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay Steve Whitney in a press release.

The building is a 36-foot by 40-foot structure that will provide storage for the ocean safety jet skis, ATVs, pickup trucks and trailers used on the Northshore. Additionally, it will provide a workspace where Ocean Safety personnel can complete paperwork and prepare reports, perform equipment inspections, and conduct training sessions.

Whitney said that despite the additional personnel and equipment dispatched to the North Shore to help with the growing number of residents and visitors, the infrastructure to support this effort has been missing due to a lack of funding.

“The community and government partnership moves beyond the current financial and resource limitations. It provides a permanent solution through creative thinking, community participation, and a willingness to work together to solve the problems facing the island,” Whitney said.

The Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay has contributed $20,000 to the project with the County of Kaua‘i matching the contribution. Additionally, Whitney said, that 100 percent of the Rotary Club members have individually contributed to the project with many more community members donating time and money. Whitney said the total cost of the building is estimated to be $95,000.

“This is just one example of the kind of community service being provided by the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay,” Kaua‘i Mayor Bryan Baptiste said. “Thank you for the part you play in showing how the community can do good things for the community.”

“Thank you, also, for all the work you have put into this project, and for all the work that you will be doing.”

The contractor, Grant Wells, estimates completion of the building some time in September.

Kaua‘i Fire Chief Robert Westerman welcomed the new facility, adding that Water Safety Week is coming up, and the groundbreaking was just one of several events marking the occasion.

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