Staying Dry At The Bar On Holidays

Ahu o Laka, aka Kaneohe sandbar, is a popular place on weekends NATHALIE WALKER PHOTO

Ahu o Laka, aka Kaneohe sandbar, is a popular place on weekends

Ask any bar manager and they’ll tell you: The last thing they want to see during the Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day weekends is an empty bar.

But, for the past three years, a very popular Windward Oahu bar has not served an ounce of alcohol on those three-day weekends, and the manager couldn’t be more pleased. In fact, the manager now believes staying dry during those weekends should be permanent.

The “bar” in this case is the popular Kaneohe sandbar, aka Ahu o Laka, and the “manager” is the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“The existing rule, as it stands right now, is there cannot be any use of alcohol or consumption in that Ahu o Laka zone on those three-day weekends,” says Meghan Statts, district manager of DLNR Oahu’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. “We’ve gotten really good support from families because it was extremely scary for years.”

Massive crowds made it “scary” for many families, and soon the bar was open to rowdy parties and even concerts.

“We’ve seen it where there’s absolutely no space on the sandbar with 600 people out there at one time,” says Statts. “We were seeing people catch rides and then get stuck at the end of the day because they had caught a ride out there but didn’t think about how they were getting back.”

In 2012, the state imposed a three-year ban on alcohol at the sandbar during the above-mentioned weekends. It also was illegal to be intoxicated in the safety zone. The rule went into effect following the death of a 26-year-old man who was involved in a fight at He‘eia Kea Small Boat Harbor.

“There were a number of fights,” recalls Statts. “Alcohol and the sun just don’t mix, especially when you’re out in the middle of Kaneohe Bay. There was a death that occurred, and that’s something that we should never see again.”

Statts says the state’s DOCARE enforcement officers did their best to minimize problems before the ban was enacted, but the crowds continued to grow.

That changed three years ago.

“Once we put the ban in place, the families came back, people were able to go out there and enjoy without having the threat of drunken fights or any kind of drugs or anything else that was happening on the sand-bar at that time,” says Statts. “Since we’ve had this ban in place, things have changed out there for the better.”

Three years quickly have passed and the rule will come to a end in late August. The state now is considering making the ban permanent but wants to hear from you first.

DLNR recently hosted a public hearing at He‘eia Elementary School, where officials gathered input from community members.

“What we’re proposing is to repeal that actual sunset portion of the Ahu o Laka safety zone, which basically would mean that the rule would become permanent on those three-day weekends,” says Statts. “It’s definitely a great family area in the middle of the bay. Where else are you going to find this big huge sand portion that you can stand on, jump in the water and have a great time!”

The state will host another public hearing in May to provide residents with another opportunity to comment, support or speak out against the proposal.

In the meantime, the ban will still be in effect for the upcoming Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, but may not be for Labor Day weekend.

For the sake of island families and the safety of the public, let’s hope it is in place. This is one time when the bar should be closed for business … for good.