The Board of Land and Natural Resources will meet next week Friday to consider approval of proposed amendments to state boating rules that would prohibit the possession, use or consumption of alcohol; loud, abusive or disorderly conduct; and the presence of persons under the influence of alcohol, narcotics or non-prescription drugs at the sandbar in Kaneohe Bay.
The public is invited to sign up to present testimony at the BLNR meeting, which will be held on July 27, beginning at 9 a.m. in Land Board conference room 132, Kalanimoku State Office building, 1151 Punchbowl St..
The proposed new rule would create a rectangular safety zone in the middle of Kaneohe Bay that is just over a square mile, comprising the majority of the sandbar and defined by six marker buoys.
Provisions of the rule would serve to protect the public while visiting the sandbar on three designated holiday weekends in summer.
The rule will also serve to foster respect for this historical asset and traditional cultural property.
The safety zone is identical in size and placement to the zone that was approved last year by the Land Board.
Based on testimony received at a public hearing on June 28 at Heeia Kea State Park, the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is proposing that the rule apply only for three state holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, including any three-day weekend associated with these holidays.
These three summer holiday weekends have historically been the times when the greatest numbers of people journey to the sandbar to consume alcohol and party, and when the greatest number of disturbances has occurred.
Boating officials are proposing to adopt these rules permanently in a new section in Title 13-256-73.13 Ocean Recreation Management Rules and areas, Subchapter 5 (Windward Oahu Ocean Recreation Management Area).
There has been a history of disturbances at the sand bar involving crowds and excessive drinking on holiday weekends, when there could be more than 200 boats and 500 people present. As far back as 2004 and 2005, there were brawls involving dozens of people.
To address public concern, DLNR increased its safety outreach at Kaneohe and was joined by other state and federal enforcement agencies. In July 2011, DLNR adopted and began enforcing a temporary 120-day emergency rule following a fatality in that same year that stemmed from excessive drinking and disorderly behavior at the sandbar.
"While the emergency rule was in force and supported by a visible enforcement presence, the entire Kaneohe Bay area underwent a remarkable change," said William J. Aila, Jr. DLNR Chairperson. "The transition to a more family-friendly environment prompted families to return to Ahu o Laka after avoiding the area for years. Many community members told us they felt that safer, more peaceful conditions were restored."
Aila continued, "This improvement to public safety was a result of the administrative rule that specifically prohibited possession of alcohol and disorderly conduct in this safety zone. The effect of the ban was clearly demonstrated and that is why we are pursuing establishment of a similar, permanent rule that is focused on the periods when the most incidents have historically occurred."
"We have a responsibility to ensure the public’s safety, and this proposed rule would help us in protecting our residents and families so they can peacefully enjoy this unique ocean location," said Aila.
Approximately 49 people signed the attendance sheets for the public hearing on the proposed permanent rule. Seventeen individuals provided oral testimony. A total of 14 pieces of written testimony were also received. A single piece of written testimony signed by multiple parties was tabulated separately.
The emergency rule was in operation during the July 4, Admission Day and Labor Day weekends in 2011. During that time DLNR issued a total of eight citations for unauthorized possession of alcohol, and fines issued by the land board ranged from $50 to $500. The number of boats and individuals going out to the sandbar on the target weekends also dropped from more than 200 boats and 500 people before the rule, to between 40 and 60 boats on the sandbar once the temporary rule took effect.
Under the new permanent rule, violations may be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $1,000 or less than $50 for each violation, in addition to administrative fines, fees, costs and damages. Persons cited will be processed administratively at a public meeting before the Land Board. Persons wishing to contest the infraction or infractions may request a contested case hearing.