Safety concerns prompt swim area proposal at popular Big Island boat ramp

PUNA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Big Island residents are demanding action after too many close calls between swimmers and boaters at the Pohoiki boat ramp. To address safety concerns, lawmakers are pushing to create a designated swim area.

Even though swimming is not allowed at the boat ramp, boaters say people have been swimming there for generations, so they tolerate it. Pohoiki gets crowded because its one of the few places where boats and swimmers can safely enter the ocean between Hilo and Kona.

"Someone's going to get hurt any day now. People aren't keeping an eye on their children. There are always children jumping in the water right behind boats," said Puna resident and fisherman Sidney Masaoka.

The county says the lack of safe swimming areas in Puna is because lava has taken over large portions of the coastline. Lava boat tour companies say doing business near the boat ramp has become dangerous and they try their best to alert people in the water.

"We actually employ ramp agents to let everybody know when the boats are coming in. We also use a horn to let the people in the water know when we're coming or going," said Shane Turpin of Lava Ocean Tours.

Lawmakers are now pushing the Department of Land and Natural Resources to conduct a feasibility study and develop plans for a designated swimming area in Puna.

"By giving swimmers an alternative, hopefully they won't use the boat ramp area. It's the only way for Puna people to be able to have a safe swim area," said State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, (D) Puna.

DLNR says it opposes the plan because it would be paid for with special funds and there is no guarantee that funding will be available.

The cost for the study and plan development was estimated at $250,000.

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