MOKULEIA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rock climbers are urging the state to reopen some popular rock climbing sites on Oahu. The state is afraid of potential lawsuits due to injuries from the risky sport, but a bill to limit liability for rock climbing on government land advanced out of a House committee on Monday.
Rock climbers are used to overcoming obstacles. Now they're facing a tough challenge just accessing spots on state land.
"We've got maybe between 12 and 15 climbing areas on Oahu," said Mike Richardson of Climb Aloha. "More than half, all the main ones, are closed right now."
The Department of Land and Natural Resources closed a hillside in Mokuleia last June after a 12-year-old girl suffered critical injuries when a falling rock hit her head.
"We've done some preliminary assessments of the rock formations above where the rock climbers climb," said DLNR chair William Aila, Jr. "We've discovered there are pieces of rock that are hanging and ready to fall."
Climbers said concerns raised by the accident prompted the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to close another site in Makapuu.
"A lot of the areas that are still open are just bouldering, not roped climbing, so there are very few places for people to go unless they're just into a certain kind of climbing which is bouldering," said Richardson.
A bill before lawmakers would limit the state's liability. Under Senate Bill 1168, no public entity or public employee would be liable for injury or damage on government land from rock climbing, bouldering, or rappelling. Many climbers and the DLNR support the bill, but some legislators believe existing laws already offer liability protection.
"I think we have no choice except to be optimistic. It's been a real tough battle. We just want the legislators to talk to DLNR and figure out whether we need this law or not," Richardson said.
If the bill becomes law, rock climbers would move one step closer to scaling the cliffs at Mokuleia once more.
"We would have to look at some sort of arrangement with a rock climbing organization to take some responsibility. The rock climbers have actually offered to us the potential for liability insurance that they would provide to us," Aila said.
The Hawaii Association for Justice, formerly the Consumer Lawyers of Hawaii, opposes the bill.
The DLNR is holding a meeting to update climbers on the closure on March 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Haleiwa Elementary School.