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North Shore residents air frustration over beach congestion; The community is urged to "keep pressing the issue" by a state lawmaker at the emotional public meeting
By Marcel Honoré
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 06, 2013; LAST UPDATED: 03:10 a.m. HST, Sep 06, 2013
An exasperated crowd of more than 200 North Shore residents crammed into a school cafeteria Thursday night in hopes of hearing immediate answers to the growing Laniakea Beach traffic woes.
But with no state Department of Transportation officials in attendance and no clear way forward presented to fix the problem, the community meeting, organized by state Rep. Richard Fale, quickly devolved into a chaotic series of outbursts from frustrated residents.
They left with little more than general talk on solutions that have been pondered for years.
However, Fale encouraged the crowd to press state transportation officials to better address the traffic choking off Kamehameha Highway as tourists flock to see Hawaiian green sea turtles on the beach and shorebreak.
"Just keep pressing the issue," Fale said. "It is getting their attention. The wheels are starting to turn."
Fale (R, Waialua-Kahuku-Waiahole) and Toni Robinson, the city's parks and recreation director, fielded written questions from residents. The crowd overflowed out of the Sunset Beach Elementary School cafeteria and many people had to watch through screen windows from outside the structure.
The state DOT will put up barriers sometime in the coming months to block cars from parking at Laniakea, Fale told the crowd. An estimated 600,000 tourists and local residents visit the beach each year — mostly to encounter the Hawaiian green sea turtles that swim ashore there.
The news about the barriers going up was met with loud boos as well as applause.
Residents wanted to know why officials don't paint a crosswalk to better contain in one place the crowds crossing the highway, why visitors don't use an isolated water runoff passage under Kamehameha Highway at Laniakea to access the beach, and why city and state officials didn't simply create a parking area with one entrance and exit — among other questions.
Several in attendance told Fale that it shouldn't be left to the community to solve the problem, and that they worried it would take a tragic traffic accident at Laniakea to spur any real action. The congestion, delays and safety hazards have steadily worsened there for at least the past eight years.
Fale told the crowd that the state remains the largest obstacle to a long-term solution at Laniakea.
"The state is not willing to take on liability," he said. "I don't think the state should divorce itself from any of the liability issues that come up with this."
The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority has agreed to discourage turtle tour operators from bringing tourists to Laniakea, Fale added, and he asked the crowd to notify his office of any tourist materials they find promoting Laniakea.
The city bought a parcel of land just mauka of the highway about 20 years ago with plans to build a beach park there, but that hasn't happened.
Robinson said city officials want to help create a viable solution at Laniakea, which now delays drivers trying to get across the North Shore regularly by around 45 minutes. Ember Shinn, the city's managing director, checked out the situation in person last week and said she was "amazed what this community has had to put up with."
Robinson said officials have also discussed whether to convert the beach into a turtle sanctuary, which would block access to tourists and local tourist viewers but not the surfers and fishermen.
Despite the occasional bedlam throughout Thursday's meeting, Noelani Love, an eight-year North Shore resident, said she left the meeting feeling better informed. She said she appreciated the forum.
"It's a nonstop topic of conversation in our community," said Love, who regularly sits in the Laniakea traffic to get to the yoga studio she runs in Haleiwa. "Every day, people are talking about it."