LIHU‘E — A hearing notice proposing a pilot permit program at Polihale State Park and Kekaha Beach Park to allow for beach driving was the first time the County of Kaua‘i heard of such a proposal.
Concurring legislation, Senate Bill 178 and House Bill 120, which would establish a two-year, state Department of Land and Natural Resources pilot beach-protection program at Polihale or any beach in Kekaha, requiring permits to drive on the beach.
If approved, the program would start in July and run through the end of June 2023.
State law prohibits motorized vehicles, including cars, ATVs, motorcycles, scooters and trail bikes on beaches. However, on Kaua‘i, vehicles are allowed to transport people or supplies for picnicking, fishing, camping or swimming. County code specifies that driving back and forth or racing on a beach violates the code.
While the county did not voice support of or opposition to the bills, Managing Director Michael Dahilig did offer comments to the Senate Committee on Water and Land Friday during a public hearing.
“This hearing notice is the first the county was made aware of this proposal,” Dahilig wrote in testimony.
The bills would also require DLNR to work with the county to determine the feasibility of establishing a similar pilot program for Kekaha Beach Park, which would be under the jurisdiction of the county, according to the proposed draft. The county requested that this section be removed from the measure.
“While we appreciate the Legislature’s efforts in thinking ‘outside of the box’ to generate revenue for the DLNR while regulating the transit of unauthorized vehicles on state lands, we believe this is a state matter and the DLNR is the appropriate managing agency,” Dahilig wrote. “We acknowledge enforcement and resource management have been challenging for the state.”
Last summer, DLNR shut down Polihale, citing overuse, illegal activity and no way to enforce rules. After five months, Polihale reopened with new rules, hours and speed bumps. Camping permits are still unavailable.
Board of Land and Natural Resources Chair Suzanne Case said the DLNR appreciates the intent of the bill, but DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement does not have the resources to enforce a no-driving moratorium or a permit system, as the bill would create.
“Simply put, DOCARE does not have sufficient manpower to address the large numbers of potential violators,” Case wrote. “There are only 13 officers for the entire Island of Kaua‘i who must address the full range of DOCARE enforcement duties, and all of these officers are not working at the same time. Addressing all violators on an extensive, multi-mile stretch of beach with current resources is a nearly-impossible task.”
“Piecemeal enforcement,” Case said, could create implications of “disparate treatment and create fairness issues, where some people may receive enforcement action and others may not.”
For the hearing on Friday, the committee received nearly 400 pieces of written testimony.
Cory Keone Riley spoke to the committee Friday, and said that the Westside used to feel “very free,” and the island has changed, “not for the better for the community.”
“We used to sleep on the sand and watch the stars on the Westside without looking over our shoulder,” Riley said. “That time is gone. I can’t understand what would motivate such heavy regulation on this island to become normal. Shutting off access has become a normal part of this recent eras.”
Taryn Dizon of Kekaha felt there was no way to enforce the permits.
“Being able to legally drive on the sand may be the main objective of this pilot program, but we need to strengthen our pillars to have a solid foundation by enhancing enforcement and include the recreational area,” Dizon said.
Dizon also noted that restricting access will have a negative effect on cultural practices.
“Enhancing our systems is critical, but protecting access to Na Pali Coast is imperative to perpetuate and continue our generational knowledge of ‘ike ‘aina, learning from the land,” Dizon said. “People say Pohoiki or Kikiaola boat harbors are one of the scariest harbors to navigate in the state, but only a few have the knowledge to navigate from Polihale, which makes this cultural practice scarce.”
The committee will reconvene on Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.