Hawaii should keep distance
from sham beach list


A group's listing of clean and healthy beaches includes none from Hawaii or the West Coast.

ONE glance at a recent listing of the nation's "officially certified" clean and healthy beaches is enough to conclude that something is adrift. None of the 53 beaches on the list is in Hawaii -- or, for that matter, on a Pacific shore. The reason is that the list was drummed up by an enterprise that engages in a clever form of payola, and jurisdictions in Hawaii, California, Washington and Oregon refuse to play.

"We have never paid such fees before, and we never will," said Honolulu city spokeswoman Carol Costa. Nor should the city pay such blackmail. Other, more thorough and objective evaluations better inform the public about the health and safety of the nation's beaches.

The beaches are "certified" by an organization called the Clean Beaches Council, and all but 10 of those judged to meet the council's standards for being clean, healthy and environmentally well managed are in Florida. One is along the Texan Gulf Coast, and the others are scattered along the East Coast.

The council's Web site says any "representative of the beach community," such as "the local government responsible for managing the beach, a local business consortium, a community group, etc." -- which means just about anybody -- can apply. The important thing is that the applicant pay $2,500 for the first year for a single beach and $1,250 for annual renewals.

"If our inspectors go out and find a beach doesn't meet our criteria, we return half the money and they won't get certified," Walter McLeod, the council's president, told a Pensacola Beach, Fla., residents association last year. "This isn't a PR or publicity campaign."

McLeod told the Los Angeles Times more recently that applicants need not pay at all for beaches that are not certified. Either way, that's a nice incentive for the council to give the beach a passing grade and a strong indication that it is indeed a publicity campaign. Indeed, Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the council's campaign "an absolutely marketable product."

Asked a month ago why no West Coast beaches are listed, McLeod told CNN, "We toughened our criteria last year, which means that beaches have to build up to become certified."

The suggestion that a West Coast beach was subjected to and failed those criteria understandably angered Steve Aceti, of the California Coastal Coalition. "We have the toughest state laws in the nation that require mandatory testing, reporting results and closures of beaches that don't meet the highest standards," he said. "We don't need a private organization in Washington, D.C., to put us on its pay-per-mention list."

McLeod told the Times he "probably mis-conveyed that it was quality criteria alone that caused California or Hawaii not to be in the program. If that was communicated, then that's certainly not what we intended."

In May, coastal expert Stephen Leatherman rated Hanauma Bay as America's best beach and included Hanalei Bay in his top 10, using a 50-criteria system that includes health and cleanliness factors.

This does not mean all Hawaii's beaches are perfect. The Natural Resources Defense Council included 14 of Hawaii's beaches among the 55 nationwide that it called "bum beaches" because of irregular monitoring of water quality. The NRDC ratings have credibility that McLeod's organization lacks.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

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