Meghan Statts


POSTED: Friday, May 01, 2009

Making sure everybody has room to enjoy the placid waters off Ala Moana Beach Park is the goal of Meghan Statts, the DLNR manager who will run a public meeting tomorrow on a plan to help swimmers and stand-up paddlers safely coexist.

Statts, Oahu district manager in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, was Ala Wai harbormaster for 10 years before being promoted to her current job two years ago. At DOBOR, she oversees Oahu's five state small-boat harbors, and administers all boating and ocean recreation activities within the state's jurisdiction.

Swimmers have complained as the number of stand-up paddlers at Ala Moana has grown, but Statts, who was born and raised in Kailua, is confident the two groups can safely share the space. She welcomes all to tomorrow's meeting, which runs from 10 a.m. to noon at Ala Moana Beach Park's McCoy Pavilion.

Statts answered questions via e-mail, with some input from other boating staff.

Question: Do you expect to come out of the meeting with an action plan?

Answer: We would like to present a concept to the public that we believe is a workable solution, but the success of any plan will be contingent on voluntary compliance exhibited by users. The department would like to stress that without public cooperation, new forms of ocean recreation introduced in the future will struggle, in much the same way stand-up paddling has, to establish a niche in the islands ... and everyone has a right to enjoy the ocean and the recreational opportunities it offers.

Q: What is the concept?

A: We actually want to wait and present it at the public meeting so that everyone gets a chance to hear it at the same time.

Q: Would any solution reached apply to all Hawaii waters, or specifically Ala Moana Beach Park?

A: The plan we'd like to introduce at the meeting is specifically for Ala Moana Ocean Waters. If the plan is successful, however, it may serve as a model for managing other waterways where similar user conflicts are occurring. DOBOR does not intend to address the controversy regarding the use of long boards and stand-up paddle boards in surf breaks in the course of Saturday's meeting.

Q: What's the ratio of swimmers to paddlers at Ala Moana now?

A: It all depends on the day and what the weather is like. There is definitely more activity after work hours and especially on the weekends. On the weekends, there can be over 100 to 200 stand-up paddlers throughout the day; the number of swimmers fluctuates.

Q: Some paddleboard rental companies say they already warn renters to stay near the reef, to let swimmers have the inner lagoon. Is subdividing the area an option for the state?

A: Creating a “;lane”; is one option that could be used to separate the stand-up paddlers and the swimmers. We would have to mark the area with buoys so that each user group knows where they can safely operate. Regardless of the existence of a demarked “;SUP Zone,”; paddlers would still be allowed to access the zone from anywhere along the shoreline.

Q: What about allowing specific activities only within certain hours, or on certain days? Is that feasible?

A: No. We believe that all ocean users should be able to use the area according to their schedules and the weather. We are hoping to reach out to the users to get them to realize that all users need to be courteous to each other and share the ocean.

Q: Once the rules are devised, how would they be enforced, and what penalty could be imposed for breaking them?

A: We are not looking to create more rules for the Ala Moana Ocean Waters that would call for constant monitoring. DLNR's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) is having to deal with positions being cut and lack of funding, which limits the amount of officers available to respond to complaints of stand-up paddlers and swimmers utilizing these waters in an unsafe or discourteous manner. We are hopeful that all ocean users realize the rights of others to use these waters (within) ... guidelines. If the plan we are going to propose is acceptable to the public, there will be a trial period during which we will observe how the public actually uses the area. If successful, the plan may be left in place. If the public is completely uninterested in working together and sharing these ocean waters, however, creating rules ... may be our last resort. The last thing we want to do, however, is ban a particular user group from enjoying these ocean waters.