Bill has state seizing ATVs ridden on sand
State officials want to stop residents from using their all-terrain vehicles on state beaches, an act that damages Hawaii's natural environment and wildlife and endangers beachgoers, they said.
Sen. Mike Gabbard (R, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) said restoring criminal penalties to driving an ATV on the beach will help eliminate the problem.
Criminal penalties "gives (the state Department of Land and Natural Resources) the tools that they need to keep our beaches safe for families, especially for our keiki," said Gabbard, who introduced a bill last week making the operation of motorized vehicles on public lands, already illegal, a petty misdemeanor. It would allow DLNR police officers to issue criminal citations, make arrests and seize vehicles.
"That's what I think is really going to turn the tables on these things," he said. "Once one or two of these vehicles get impounded, the problem is going to be solved very quickly."
Gabbard said the problem has been going on for years and that the state officers do not have enough manpower and cannot do anything about the riders unless there are criminal penalties attached to the activity.
DLNR Director Peter Young said the legislative action would help to prevent activity that threatens the safety of beachgoers and endangers plants and animals.
People sitting on the beach at night are put at risk by the riders, he said, adding that turtle eggs also could be damaged.
Mokuleia, which is part of a natural reserve, and Kaena Point are known for having illegal riders, but people riding off-road vehicles on beaches is a concern throughout the state, Young said.
"(Mokuleia is) remote and isolated, so people may sometimes feel it's not going to cause any damage," Young said.
But nesting birds and other endangered species are put in danger by the activity, he said, adding that off-road vehicles cause heavy damage to wildlife by tearing up vegetation, which takes time to recover or does not recover at all.
"We know people want to use it as a recreational activity," he said. "However, we don't want it to happen anywhere, any time. It needs to be controlled."
The state is trying to find more places for people to use their vehicles and currently has plans for a 30- to 40-acre area for off-road vehicles near Sand Island.
DLNR is also seeking $5 million for law enforcement and wants to increase the number of officers to monitor the public lands to 150 officers from 110, Young said.
Mark Ebalaroza, creator of an online off-road vehicle community, said he wants the state to open up more trails for people who want to take their vehicles off road, but he supports the state's attempt to protect the beaches.
"I'm not against that. I think there should be a law to prohibit these guys from going on the beach," he said. "There are a lot of us who don't believe in that. We don't go and take our trucks on the beach when we see people."
Bill 1891 will be scheduled for a committee hearing and, if it passes the committee, will continue on for a second reading.