Kekaha lifeguard tower on the move

KEKAHA — Two weeks of significant wave erosion at Kekaha Beach forced the county to push the lifeguard tower mauka from its sandy shoreline perch Saturday.

“Our first concern at this point is protecting the structure from the erosion happening as we speak,” Kaua‘i Fire Chief Bob Westerman said in a county press release. “Once that’s achieved, we’ll move forward with the permanent relocation.”

The county is preparing to relocate the tower to a new site toward MacArthur Park some 164 yards west of its current location.

“The permanent move will be discussed internally early next week and there’s no definite time frame yet for that move,” county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said in an email Saturday. “The new area will need to be prepped.”

The lifeguard tower had apparently been placed at the site without necessary permits. The Army Corps of Engineers mandated that the tower be moved to a different location because it sits next to an underground revetment wall.

After an inspection last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified the state Department of Transportation, responsible for maintaining the site, that the tower’s current location is in violation of the rules governing federal assistance for the Kekaha Beach Road Shore Protection Project and that keeping the tower at its current location could result in the loss of future assistance for shore protection work in the immediate area, county officials said. 

Officials discussed the new proposed location with members of the Kekaha community in September and January, at which time some residents expressed concern that the tower’s relocation away from the popular swimming and surfing spot would threaten public safety.

Last September, Kekaha resident Leslie Berleson made some observations of Kekaha Beach’s activity and wrote a letter to Westerman. He provide a copy of the letter to The Garden Island.

“At the current site of the lifeguard station there were approximately 37 people swimming in the water, approximately three times that number on the beach, and 40 cars in the parking lot,” he wrote. “I then drove down to MacArthur Park and observed six cars in the parking lot, one person swimming in the water and one person on the beach.”

He concluded that “it makes no sense to relocate the lifeguard station.”

County spokeswoman Mary Daubert said over the last two years there haven’t been any drownings in the vicinity of the Kekaha lifeguard tower and there have been only two rescues; however, about 2,500 preventative actions are reported annually.

Preventative actions consist of warnings and advisements, according to Ocean Safety officials. Any time a lifeguard warns the public of a potential hazard or advises people on the safest location to snorkel, swim or surf, it would be counted as a preventative action.

There were only four drownings off the coast of Kekaha from 1970 to 2009, according to Kaua‘i geologist Chuck Blay’s report this month in the “International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education.”

The tower’s relocation was delayed earlier this year pending a request by the county, via the state, to receive a waiver from the permit requirement. This would allow the tower to remain in its current location, the county news release states. USACE replied that it would only consider a waiver after submittal of a modification request under 33 U.S. Code 408.

The county has since determined that it would be most prudent to move the structure as recommended by USACE after reviewing “the relative benefits of moving the tower versus leaving it in its current location, the time and expense associated with preparing the Section 408, the chances of such a request being approved and the risks associated with potential damage to the Shoreline Protection Project.”

“As we have stated numerous times in the past, our lifeguards are confident that they can assure the health and safety of beachgoers from the new location,” Westerman said in the news release. “In fact, they feel the new location may be even more advantageous in protecting all who utilize the expanse of Kekaha Beach Park.”

The cost to permanently relocate the tower is $39,766, county officials said, the same as the cost of the tower itself in 2008. The original tower was built in 1999 and replaced in 2008, Daubert said.

The funds will come from the county and the county will perform the work with assistance from DOT, said DOT spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. The palm trees and other plants that were planted near the existing tower will also be relocated.

 

• Vanessa Van Voorhis  can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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