Monday, May 16, 2022 |
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Lifeguards to protect Ke‘e Beach
by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND
Swimmers and snorkelers at one of Kauai’s most popular beaches will soon be better protected when they enter the azure waters on the North Shore.
More than $700,000 in state money will be spent this year to fund four water safety officers, a tower, truck, ATV, trailer, beach dolly, personnel gear and equipment for Ha‘ena State Park’s Ke‘e Beach.
The unguarded destination is home to an average of one drowning every other year, according to Monty Downs, M.D., an ocean safety advocate and Wilcox Memorial Hospital emergency room doctor.
Ke‘e Beach has been without water safety officers for at least the past several years, the Kaua‘i FIre Chief Robert Westerman said.
In the mid-1990s, Mayor Maryanne Kusaka put lifeguards there. But within a few months, the county Attorney’s Office cited liability concerns and they were removed, Downs said.
“It was the worst day in Kaua‘i’s water safety history,” he said.
For the past 20 years, Downs said, an average of 10 people drown annually on Kaua‘i. Roughly 70 percent were tourists.
County Council yesterday approved Westerman’s request to receive and expend $524,793 plus an annually-recurring amount of $200,065 for lifeguard compensation, fringe benefits and training that the state Legislature appropriated last summer in its 2007-09 biennium budget.
Emergency personnel race to the end of Kuhio Highway at least 10 to 15 times per year on rescue calls for Ke‘e Beach, Westerman said.
The closest lifeguard station is in Ha‘ena, he said, which has one ATV. The nearest Jet Ski comes from the Princeville post.
“We’ve had to literally pluck people out of the water with a helicopter,” Westerman said.
With state funding appropriated for the first two years, the chief said, “the hardest task” will be keeping that money coming.
The recurring amount must be re-appropriated in the state’s next budget.
Some councilmembers voiced concerns during the morning meeting at the Historic County Building about creating these new county civil service positions without being able to guarantee a long-term funding commitment from the state.
Somebody will have to pay for the lifeguards when the state stops funding it, Councilman Mel Rapozo said.
Downs said in an interview yesterday afternoon the county should have no fears concerning continued funding.
He pointed to similar agreements to provide lifeguards for state beaches on O‘ahu and Big Island.
The state has kept its commitment to fund these stations, Downs said, “It’s their beach.”
The county is currently working to complete a memorandum of agreement with the state, Westerman told council.
This will address, in part, liability issues, Downs said.
Another challenge the county will face is filling the positions.
Finances and availability have made it hard for the county to recruit applicants, Westerman said.
Certification classes cost money, he said, and it is tough for people to take off work for the tests.
“We’re trying to remove all the barriers,” Westerman said, noting a goal of producing a larger list of applicants.
At least one of the eight drownings on Kaua‘i in 2007 happened at Ke‘e Beach.
Two individuals have drowned this year on the Garden Isle.
Richard Osborn, 70, of Santa Rosa, Calif., died Jan. 5 after someone found him floating face down the previous Saturday at Po‘ipu Beach.
A 66-year-old man from Denmark drowned Jan. 5 after a failed rescue by a good Samaritan at Kalihiwai.
Downs, who has advocated the past decade for more lifeguards on Kaua‘i beaches, said Ke‘e is “very heavily used” and certain conditions produce a strong rip current that sucks people out to sea.
“Having a lifeguard will be a huge step forward,” he said.
He said he thought the lifeguard station would be operational at Ke‘e Beach within a few months.
Kaua‘i Explorer launched a Web site last year with support from multiple government agencies that lists information about local beaches and hiking trails.
“The addition of a tower in that vicinity will add safety and provide stewardship elements to this beautiful area,” Winston Welborn, Kaua‘i Explorer staff, said in an e-mail. “I personally knew lifeguards that lost work when the Ke‘e tower was closed down. .. With the tower reopening, we’ll finally be back to where we were 15 years ago.”
Another Kaua‘i Explorer staff member, Jessica Dofflemyer, noted the discussion on the Web site’s forum section about the beauty and risks of snorkeling and swimming at Ke‘e Beach.
“…I am very glad to know that lifeguards will now be at Ke‘e to answer questions and educate the huge influx of visitors the area sees.”
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