Open or Closed? Lawmakers Offer Some Clarity on Beach Park Accessibility
Mixed and evolving messages from multiple governmental sources have caused some confusion among the public as to the availability of Big Island beaches and what precisely is allowed where.
County and state representatives from West Hawai‘i gathered with Lieutenant Governor Josh Green at a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night to provide some clarity on the issue, though even they didn’t have all the answers.
“A lot of beaches are closed, even for transit to get into the ocean,” said Hawai‘i County Councilman Tim Richards. “As of yesterday, (Mayor Harry Kim) was reconsidering things. He said some changes should be coming forth.”
“Most beach parks closed are closed because they’re concerned about being able to monitor the people going there.”
Some gates blocking vehicle access to parks that are technically open for ocean access and exercise purposes, though continue to prohibit gatherings, remain locked.
Nicole Lowen, who represents Kona in the Hawai‘i House of Representatives, said the Department of Land and Natural Resources is mulling whether to unlock those gates or not, requiring instead that people park and hike to beaches that remain open for limited use. Many Big Island beaches aren’t easily reachable without vehicle access.
As of Tuesday, there were citizen reports that the gate entrance to Kua Bay was still locked. On Wednesday, State Rep. David Tarnas, of Kohala, said those who wish to visit Hapuna Beach need to park on Old Puako Road and walk in. He added the bathrooms at the beach are closed and the water has been shut off.
Lieutenant Governor Green, who advises Gov. David Ige on decision-making, said he thinks Hawai‘i will “get fairly quickly to the point where we open all the parks.” He added he’s “a believer” that outdoor activities are safe when people practice social distancing, noting research that indicated viral particles expelled from those ill with COVID-19 dry up quickly on the hot Hawai‘i air.
Green said some of the first restrictions on beach activity to go will involve congregation numbers. Currently, under Gov. Ige’s Emergency Proclamation, people are only allowed to participate in outdoor activities in groups of two. Larger groups are only allowed to congregate if they are all members of the same residential family.
The Lieutenant Governor said he believes that number will increase to a maximum of 10 people per outdoor gathering by June. Summertime may prove the period of least risk for the rest of the year, Green explained, considering the return of mass tourism is the most likely catalyst for a second-wave surge of coronavirus cases that may cause the rollback of loosened restrictions.
“This may be the safest time we have for the next several months,” Green said. “When we reinstitute major business and travel, we’ll have to be more mindful.”
Would-be hikers, joggers, walkers and beachgoers should be aware that the mandatory shelter-in-place order and the mandatory 14-day traveler quarantine remain in effect.
Residents can be cited and fined up to $5,000 as well as receive a sentence of up to one year in prison for violating orders while venturing out. Tourists who leave their room inside of two weeks of their arrival to any island are automatically in violation of the quarantine order and can face the same penalties.
This was the case on Tuesday and Wednesday with several people on O‘ahu and Maui. A Florida man and an Illinois woman were the latest people to be arrested and charged under the State’s COVID-19 emergency rules, according to a DLNR press release.
Mitchell Lawrence Shier, 25, of Miami, and 27-year-old Anne Elizabeth Rush were first contacted by Honolulu Police Tuesday, the same day they’d checked into a Waikiki hotel. Hotel staff called police after they saw the couple returning to their room with shopping bags and take-out food in violation of the mandatory, traveler 14-day self-quarantine rule.
Wednesday morning, special agents from the Department of the Attorney General’s Investigations Division went to the hotel and arrested Shier and Rush. They are charged with violation of the 14-day quarantine rule and unsworn falsification to authorities, DLNR said.
On Tuesday, 60-year-old Leif Anthony Johansen of Truckee, California was observed by a witness jet-skiing off a North Shore Beach. Authorities said he was supposed to be in self-quarantine at his Waialua home beginning on April 18, according to the DLNR.
Johansen was seen leaving his residence Tuesday and was then followed to Costco in Waipio. He was arrested by AG’s special agents as he was loading groceries into his vehicle. In addition to being charged for violating the self-quarantine rule, he is also charged with unsworn falsification to authority.
Shier, Rush and Johanson were booked and charged, then released on their own recognizance and ordered to complete their remaining quarantine periods in their place of lodging or home.
On Maui, 34-year-old William Lefear is voluntarily returned to his home in Houston Wednesday after being contacted by Maui Police repeatedly for violating the mandatory self-quarantine rule, DLNR said. His quarantine period was scheduled to end on May 11.
An investigation revealed that Lefear left his hotel room late Monday and returned after midnight. The next morning when officers contacted him, he said he wasn’t aware of the mandatory self-quarantine. He told them he now understood the rules and would not leave his room again. Tuesday evening police were contacted again, as the Texas resident was seen leaving his room. He was arrested and released pending further investigation.
Green waste services have been suspended across Hawai‘i County and can only be deposited at one of the Big Island’s two landfill sites.
That decision, Richards said Wednesday, is due to an interpretation made by Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim that green waste workers were not deemed essential by Gov. Ige’s Emergency Proclamation.
Tarnas doesn’t agree with the mayor’s interpretation and wrote the governor’s office to ask for clarification, which he said he will present to Kim when the state responds.
As more people are at home more frequently than ever before, yardwork is even more prevalent and the need for green waste services is essential, Richards said.
Lieutenant Governor Green also noted that the moratorium on mandatory safety checks for vehicles will likely be extended another three months, as some businesses that offer them are not currently allowed to operate, while hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to pay crucial bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic.