LAHAINA - The community advocacy group Na Kupuna O Maui put together a modest but eye-catching march along Front Street on Saturday morning demanding new buoys and other safety measures to protect swimmers, snorkelers and divers after a 60-year-old man was killed in December when he was struck by a boat in waters off Hanakao'o Beach, also known as Canoe Beach.
However, state officials said that eight ingress-egress buoys already had been installed outside Lahaina Harbor and another eight were scheduled to be put in place in the next two weeks near Hanakao'o and Kaanapali beaches.
"I thought that was great news," said West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker, who has lobbied to have the buoys put in place quickly. "We don't want any more incidents."
Protest march organizer Patty Nishiyama walks down Front Street with 6-year-old granddaughter Chamille to protest the lack of protective buoys for swimmers and others who use West Maui’s waters.
The Maui News / CHRIS HAMILTON photo
State Department of Land and Natural Resources Director William Aila Jr. said that the installation has been completed for eight buoys outside Lahaina Harbor, which help guide boats in and out of the harbor.
Baker said that she tried to explain to protest organizer Patty Nishiyama that money from the DLNR's in-house boating special fund had come through for two sets of buoys.
But Nishiyama still gathered more than 25 people for the polite but intense street protest.
"Take our message back home with you," said Nishiyama to Front Street visitors. Her group held signs saying "Bring Back The Buoys" and "Better Safe Than Sorry." The protesters smiled and said "aloha" to people who interacted with them.
Aila said that officials from his department have been in contact with the protest group members to inform them about the installation of the buoys with help from Trilogy Excursions. State officials also need to put in place new underwater anchors to attach lines to, he said.
The DLNR will tie up the other buoys on March 1 and 2 to protect swimmers, paddlers, Native Hawaiians engaged in cultural practices and others from motorboats and charters near Hanakao'o and Kaanapali beaches, Aila and Baker said.
West Maui residents familiar with offshore areas said that buoys previously were installed from Mala Wharf to Black Rock to mark off a protected area for swimmers. But the buoys were not properly maintained, and most broke off and drifted away years ago, they said. Now, West Maui's coastal waters are busier than ever with more people enjoying watersports and greater risks of collisions.
The protesters want buoys specifically designed to protect people in the water (these are not the ingress-egress type installed outside Lahaina Harbor) such as those found in waters off Puamana and Launiupoko.
"I just can't believe it until it's been seen," Nishiyama said when told of reports from Baker and Aila that half the buoys had been installed at Lahaina.
She said she was told that the funding still needed to go through the legislative process, and it was stuck in a committee during this year's ongoing legislative session.
Baker said she was pleased that Nishiyama and Na Kupuna O Maui brought the community together to raise awareness about ocean safety and let the DLNR know how important the issue is to West Maui.
Baker also said that she introduced a bill heard at the Capitol last week that would set up similar buoy-protected boating lanes in South Maui around the Kihei Small Boat Ramp as well as set up protected designated swimming lanes around the beaches from the ramp to Charley Young Beach Park.
Baker said that she intends to introduce a bill for a related buoy arrangement off Lanai.
In August, an inflatable boat ran over 51-year-old Lanai resident Alan Amoncio while he was diving at Kaumalapau Harbor on Lanai. That tragedy spurred the Maui County Council to adopt a resolution last year to urge the state to review and strengthen boating safety laws.
Aila said that DLNR officials would be ready to install buoys off South Maui if Baker's bill passes, but he wasn't yet aware of any effort to install buoys in Lanai waters.
On Dec. 29, residents became outraged after a boat killed longtime canoe racing official and volunteer William Kalanikai Gonzales as he swam in what's supposed to be a protected swim zone off Hanakao'o Beach. He had flags with him and was arranging lanes for a high school canoe paddling race, Nishiyama said.
"It's so frustrating," said Lahaina resident Tony Orr, commenting on how buoys that had been in place went missing.
Aila said that his department has been taking Na Kupuna O Maui's concerns "very seriously," but Nishiyama said that she called "DLNR many times and left many messages," but she has not gotten answers.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.