LIHUE — The Kauai County Council on Wednesday approved a new lifeguard stand for Poipu Beach Park that officials believe will save lives.
“As you know, I think Waiohai Beach is one of the most dangerous beaches on the island because of the drownings we’ve had in the last 10 years. It’s not a very high surf area, but we do have a lot of visitors at the beach,” said Kalani Vierra, Ocean Safety Bureau chief.
The new location on the west end of the park will give lifeguards a better view of Brennecke Beach, a county beach and Waiohai Beach, a private beach patrolled by lifeguards. The new location, officials said, will reduce response time during emergencies.
“I think it would really serve the community and visitors much better with this new location of the new tower,” he said.
There’s a lifeguard station at the park, but Vierra said lifeguards can’t see around the point to Waiohai Bay.
Funds for the $31,500 stand were donated by the Kauai Lifeguard Association.
“We’d like to put a temporary tower that’s movable depending on the high tide, or storm or erosion of the beach, we can move the tower pretty quick, Vierra said.
Once the new tower is constructed, Vierra said they would place the existing tower near the kiddie lagoon.
The request for the new stand, Vierra said, is based on how many drownings there have been in the area over the past several years.
Dr. Monty Downs, KLA president, said five visitors drowned in the span of five years in that area.
“The lifeguards are very aware of this, that’s a blind spot for them and have already spent a lot of time on that point, in the sun, getting sun exposure and this proposal of the tower is actually for the benefit of the lifeguards themselves to have a protected area where they can see the people,” he said.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura asked how many drownings are due to lack of coverage, versus tourists having heart attacks or experiencing other issues in the water.
“We have the best lifeguards in the world and they go above and beyond any kind of legal obligations they would have in order to protect life and safety down there,” said Mauna Kea Trask, county attorney.
The issue, Trask said, is Poipu Beach Park, not Waiohai Beach which is private property, though lifeguards do patrol that side of the beach.
“For the record, nothing they do down there is due to negligence,” Trask said.
Yukimura asked how the need for a lifeguard stand is determined, who is responsible for it and what their obligation and need for coverage is.
Vierra said there’s a lot of people in the area and their lifeguards don’t just respond to the water, they also respond to the parking lot.
“The main thing is the kiddie pond,” he said. “Lifeguards will often see a child floating at its mother’s ankles before its mother sees it.”
Council chairman Mel Rapozo asked about the cost of the tower and who will pay for staffing it.
“The fact that we approve the indemnification agreement, doesn’t automatically approve the purchase and staffing of the second tower,” he said.
“In this particular location, we know we have this issue of location of our tower,” said Kauai County Fire Chief Robert Westerman. “We were able to get funding.”
Westerman said they intend to staff the new tower with current staffing. Vierra said they may move part-time positions to full time.
The movable tower will be located on a sandy area of state land, between Waiohai Beach and Brennecke Beach. Because the stand will be on state land, the proposal must be indemnified by the County of Kauai.
Downs said he testified at a DLNR meeting on Oahu a couple of months ago about the issue and it was approved, but it came back with a stipulation of indemnification — protection against legal responsibility — for the state.
The county said there are 10 lifeguard stands on the island, with no additional plans to construct new ones.
The council approved the proposal with Yukimura stating her vote was a silent vote until more information about the budget for the stand is presented. Councilmember Derek Kawakami was not present at Wednesday’s meeting.