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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, March 17, 2000

Walk on Waimea’s
wild side

HERE'S what you do about that mess out at Waimea Bay: post two lawyers from the state Attorney General's Office on each end of the stretch of Kamehameha Highway in the rock slide zone. Open up the road and allow anyone willing to sign an affidavit promising not to sue the state if they are smashed by falling rocks to take their chances and cross the DMZ (De-Mountainized Zone.)

It's a cynical thing to say, but let's face it. The state is more afraid of falling lawsuits than falling rocks. People get killed all the time on state property, namely highways, but officials don't stop people from driving. Drivers accept a certain level of responsibility for the privilege of racing around the island in screaming 5,000-pound, gas-fired machines.

The state is a bit hypersensitive to rock slides because of the fatal boulder avalanche at Sacred Falls last year. The popular tourist hiking destination has been closed indefinitely because of the danger to people, as well as the state's legal liability.

Now the Waimea Bay highway is closed because some rocks came loose. It couldn't have happened at a worse spot on the North Shore. With cliffs on one side and the most famous big-wave surfing spot on the other, there's no room for a bypass road. A temporary road is being built across the beach itself. But before the Hawaiian blessing on this misguided project had finished, the waves were already growing in the bay. By the end of the day, the pedestrian walkway was washed out by waves and the road project threatened.

A colleague pointed out the irony of the situation: Police don't warn pedestrians that they are crossing the wave zone at their own risk.

Wait a second. People are allowed to cross a beach with the surge of 20-foot waves rushing across the sand but they aren't allowed to take the risk of walking on the road? The waves are definitely rolling in. The rocks might not come down for another 10 years.

A television news broadcast showed a guy trudging across the sand when a kid on a Boogie board suddenly went flying in front of him in the wash of a wave. Maybe they should put up "Danger -- Boogie Board Crossing" signs just in case a future litigant gets leveled by surfer.

Everyone has a solution to the mess. I think that instead of having lifeguards tell people when to walk or wait, officials should just play music through a loudspeaker, like in musical chairs. When the music stops, everyone freezes; when the music starts again, they walk. It would be just as safe and a lot more fun to watch.

Others have suggested blasting the cliffs with a howitzer. Why not? The Army blasted away at the hills above Makua Beach for years. Another colleague predicted if the ever-excitable Frank Fasi were still mayor, he'd be out there right now with a bazooka taking care of the problem.

On parts of the mainland where snow avalanches are common, tunnels are built over the road. It took 20 years for North Shore residents to allow a McDonald's to be built in Haleiwa. I doubt they'd go for a tunnel at Waimea.

Using history as our guide, we can safely predict a couple of things about the outcome of this debacle: Whatever is done to make the roadway safe will take five times longer than promised, be extremely expensive and leave just about everyone unhappy. I say, send in the lawyers.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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