Zipline operators push for mandatory safety regulations

Published: Feb. 17, 2012 at 12:15 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2012 at 9:01 PM HST
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Jeff Baldwin, Piiholo Zipline
Jeff Baldwin, Piiholo Zipline
Danny Boren, Skyline Eco Adventures
Danny Boren, Skyline Eco Adventures
Audrey Hidano, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations
Audrey Hidano, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ziplining popularity is growing by leaps and bounds but after the first fatality in the country last September so are questions about safety in the unregulated industry.

The co-owner of KapohoKine Adventures where the fatal accident occurred near Hilo says he is tired of the industry saying everything is fine when it's not.

"The industry does need complete safety regulations to look at the entire build and operation to make sure an accident doesn't happen again," said Tony DeLellis, KapohoKine Adventures co-owner. "The industry doesn't need a Band-Aid but really needs change to result in a safer industry. My concern is that I don't see that happening."

Other zipline operators agree changes need to be coming down the line.

When it comes to ziplining Hawaii is leading the way.

"If it involves speed, adrenaline, that sort of thing I'm in," said Dustin Moore, zipline customer.

"It's exciting I mean this is an awesome place to be," said Oca Hoeflein, zipline customer.

Hoeflein is here because he has three ziplines on his property in Washington and wants to build a bigger one.

"I'm here to investigate and see how the big boys do it so I can do one at my house," said Hoeflein.

The activity has become so popular it's predicted the number of companies in Hawaii will jump from 20 to 40 in the next five years.  Existing operators don't want some fly by night company opening up, skimping on safety then having an accident and hurting the entire industry.

"There's no time when people are not tempted to cut costs and we want to eliminate that temptation completely," said Jeff Baldwin, Piiholo Zipline Owner.

Piiholo Ranch has courses on Maui including a 2800 foot line that is a highlight of the tour.

"There is a lot of perceived risk in an activity like this. You are definitely hundreds of feet in the air at times," explained Baldwin. "These are 3/4 inch cables. They're rated at 58,000 pounds. The anchors in the ground are rated at 75,000 pounds each."

"So if a person is coming down that it's virtually impossible to pull it out of the ground?" I asked.

"Well nothing is impossible. What we do is overbuild as part of our redundant process," responded Baldwin.

Ten years ago Skyline Eco Adventures on Maui was the first company in the country to zipline.  Now more than two million zips later, company President Danny Boren says customers haven't had a major safety incident.

"How do you ensure either the tree or the tower doesn't fall and the line doesn't snap?" I asked.

"We engineer everything that we do to make sure all the anchors are safe and all the cables are safe so there isn't the threat of that happening," said Danny Boren, Skyline Eco Adventures President.

Neither Piiholo Ranch nor Skyline Eco Adventures was involved in the fatal accident last September when a contractor working for Experiential Resources, Inc. was killed while testing a recently adjusted zipline on the Big Island.  That course is still not operating and police are still investigating.  It was the first zipline fatality in the country and it prompted customers to ask more questions about safety.

"I think that our industry is very close, we all recognize the importance of safety and we are just saddened by the incident that did occur on the Big Island and so we're really banding together and we work with our competitors and have close relationships with them because we recognize the importance of ensuring long term viability of ziplines and the safety for everybody that goes on them," said Boren.

Boren and Baldwin worked with lawmakers to draft a bill that would add safety regulations for all companies to follow and the state would enforce.  While most companies support standardized rules it was actually the state that testified in opposition to bill.

"We're not opposed we just don't want it in our department because we're not equipped. We don't know what they're rules and regulations are, we don't have enough manpower," said Audrey Hidano, State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

State zipline inspections would go to the Boiler and Elevator Department.  Those guys have already fallen behind on work.  Add in another industry they know nothing about and it may hurt rather than help.

"Mainly on the elevators we're quite behind on the annual inspections," said Hidano.  "We're not saying no no no that it shouldn't be regulated.  It's just right now we don't have the capacity to do anything more than what we really need to do now."

"We want to make sure these courses are inspected on a regular basis by people who are known professionals in the industry. You don't want to send out a random guy to inspect a zipline cable that might be 600 feet in the air," said Baldwin. "We don't want to see anybody get hurt, and what we're looking at is not only standards for building but standards for operations."

That's one reason why lawmakers voted to defer the bill so the issue could be researched and specific safety guidelines can be identified.  It is expected to come up again next legislative session.

For now as long as people walk away safe and smiling the sky's the limit for the ziplining industry.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.