HILO — The island’s iconic wooden lifeguard shacks are slated for removal to be replaced with fiberglass units manufactured on the mainland.
The last seven of the bright orange structures currently dotting beaches at Kahaluu, Ahalanui, Richardson, Leleiwi, Carlsmith, Onekahakaha and Honolii will be replaced with white fiberglass “surveyor towers,” under a plan outlined earlier this month by Fire Chief Darren Rosario. The new units cost about $50,000 each, Rosario told the County Council during a budget briefing.
Rosario said the Fire Department took over the Ocean Safety Division in 2007, an area he said, “has been neglected for a lot of years.”
“We’ve tried really hard to get them up to standards and get them the equipment they need,” he said.
Lifeguards Nohea Masaoka and Brandan Ahuna, perched in the wooden stand Monday at Richardson Beach, said they’ve been waiting for a new stand for years. The wooden ones are cramped, the metal supports rust easily, the paint wears off and the wooden benches cause back problems for some of the older lifeguards, they said.
“The other ones are just so much better, so much more comfortable,” said Ahuna, an eight-year lifeguard who has tried the new fiberglass stand. “There’s a big difference.”
Beachgoers interviewed along the Keaukaha coastline Monday seemed evenly split on the issue. On the one hand, they said the wooden stands are cheaper, much more attractive and take up less beach space. On the other hand, the fiberglass towers afford a better view and allow the lifeguard to sit inside or out.
“You can buy a lot of cans of paint for $50,000,” said Anne Ghiulamila, enjoying the sunny day with her family at Carlsmith. “It seems an unnecessary expense at the risk of county jobs.”
Rosario’s 2013 budget indicated annual expenses of only $100 for all the towers’ maintenance.
“They don’t look like they’re falling down,” said Gary Faulkner of Sydney who was also at Carlsmith with his family. “I don’t see the necessity, but if it saves money in the long run.”
“It would be a benefit because the lifeguard could be inside or outside,” said Leanna Kobayashi, a Pahoa resident taking advantage of a shelter at Leleiwi with her family. “They can see everywhere — a 360-degree view instead of 180.”
Rosario also lobbied for two more lifeguards, at a salary of about $40,000 each annually, in order to put a full-time guard at Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Currently, two part-time lifeguards are there Monday through Friday.
He also wants to purchase two Jet Ski-type watercraft, with a starting cost of $132,000, including two additional dedicated full-time lifeguard positions.
Currently, seven of the county’s 12 beaches have daily lifeguards, he said. The rest have lifeguards weekends, holidays and school breaks, except Spencer, which doesn’t have a lifeguard during school breaks, and Punaluu. Rosario’s long-term goal is to get daily lifeguards at every beach.
“This is not something we can do this year, next year or even in the next five years with the budget that we have,” Rosario said. “We have visitors coming at any time during the year. The beaches need to be covered year-round by staff.”