Gov. David Ige and Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino are at odds over what activities should be permitted on county beaches in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to confusion among beachgoers.
On Friday, Ige issued emergency rule updates that closed all beaches to running, walking and any activity other than to cross a beach to get to the ocean for exercise, fishing and food gathering. The governor was prompted by reports of Oahu and Maui beaches being hot spots for public health emergency rule-breakers.
Maui County already had an emergency order in place, issued last month by Victorino, that allowed exercise on the beach, such as walking, but no stationary activities, like reading.
Initially, Victorino said Friday that he would “vigorously enforce” the new order starting Sunday. But by Saturday, he had changed his mind and sent a letter to Ige, asking for restoration of beach exercise activities because physical exercise is “vital for good health.”
At a news conference Monday, Ige stuck to his order and maintained that the state had authority over all beaches. But even jurisdictional issues were murky, Victorino indicated.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources added to the murkiness about state control over all beaches. The DLNR said the state owns all beaches in Hawaii, which translates to “all lands up to the high wash of the waves usually evidenced by the debris line or the vegetation line.” State authority also extends 3 miles offshore in the ocean.
However, DLNR said that the “state has given the counties jurisdiction over certain beaches, generally identified as county beach parks.”
“Beaches under individual county jurisdictions may have different rules as mayors understand the needs of their community members and are able to take locally appropriate action,” DLNR said.
So the county has control over beaches fronting county beach parks, such as Launiupoko Beach Park in Lahaina. Victorino’s emergency orders closed county parks but not the beaches. (The mayor said he may consider opening some county parks in the not too distant future if coronavirus numbers remain low for the next week or two.)
There also could be uneven enforcement.
Victorino asked the Maui Police Department to be more “compassionate” when it comes to possible citations over exercise at beaches. But he apologized in advance if a state DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officer issued citations.
“I have asked our police to be more compassionate in this area because there really is some uncertainty, but I cannot speak for DOCARE. I do not have any jurisdiction over how they enforce the law,” Victorino said in response to a question on enforcement from The Maui News. “But somebody from DOCARE could, and if they do, I apologize up front, but I have no jurisdiction and no power over their enforcement.”
Victorino noted that it could be difficult to tell the difference between DOCARE, the enforcement arm of DLNR, and Maui police because they “wear those same dark blue uniforms.”
“The patches are different, but how many people pay attention to that?” he asked. “Their badges are different, again how many people pay attention to that? So I would ask people to really make sure, if you get cited, make sure it’s our police not DOCARE.
“Our police are really not out to cite people right now until this clarification.”
With Ige’s new prohibition on walking, running and other exercises at beaches, “a lot of people had confusion,” Maui police spokeswoman Lt. Audra Sellers said Monday.
Since March 28, Maui police have made 23 arrests and issued 458 citations for violating public health emergency rules as of Monday.
The largest number of citations was in the Kihei district with 201, followed by Lahaina with 104 and Wailuku with 71. Thirty-two citations were issued on Molokai, 30 were issued on Lanai and 20 were issued in Hana.
Maui police said most of the citations have been issued at beaches, where surfing, swimming and other exercise, as well as fishing and diving, are allowed but not sunbathing, sitting or loitering.
During the news conference, Ige said that the state will continue to work with all the mayors to develop a more consistent policy.