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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2002

Diamond Head sea ladder may be yanked

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

Every day Katie Keim and Virgil Stinnett climb down a stainless steel ladder from the seawall fronting a Diamond Head high-rise to take their daily swim.

Members of the Diamond Head Ambassador condominium board say they want the ladder fronting their apartments removed to preclude injuries and possible lawsuits.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

It's the only way to get to the ocean without walking on coral, Stinnett said. Everyone who lives along here, from the elderly to children, uses the stairs all day long. Therein lies the problem: too much noise, alleged acts of vandalism and too many people walking on the seawall to get to the ladder.

Two other public access points to the ocean are less than a quarter mile away: one is farther down on Kalakaua in front of single-family homes; the other is by the Sans Souci Apartments. These accessways, however, require swimmers to walk on coral and rocks.

The narrow ladder is right in front of the Diamond Head Ambassador Apartments leaning on the seawall and entering the ocean. Members of the condominium's board of directors want the ladder removed because they fear if someone gets hurt they could be sued.

Vandalism has also been reported, said Robert Gentry, a member of the Gold Coast Neighborhood Association.

But just as many residents living along this stretch of Diamond Head want the ladder to stay.

It's a neighborhood issue that will require state involvement to hash out ownership and responsibility of the ladder, residents say. As Hawai'i gets more populated, issues of beach access have been popping up all over the island. At one beach, residents complain about outrigger canoes taking up too much space and attracting the wrong kind of people. At another beach, residents want to close access along private pathways.

"We use the ladder quite regularly," said Stinnett, who lives in the nearby Tropic Shores Apartment building. "It's accessible and it's the easiest and safest place for us to get into the water."

Residents of the Diamond Head Ambassador are not allowed to just yank out the ladder. They don't know who owns it, or even who is responsible for it. No one remembers who put it in or when. But they know the ladder has been there for at least 30 years.

"The stairs have created a brouhaha here on the Gold Coast," Gentry said. "The stairs have to be a public facility as access for the people who live around here.

"The people who live here and use the ocean for recreation and enjoyment won't quietly leave if the decision is made to remove the ladder."

The state is in the midst of researching ownership of the ladder, said Harry Yada, state Department of Land and Natural Resources action land division administrator. The state's responsibility in all this is that it must ensure access to the ocean. It does that with the seawall and with the two accessways on either side of the ladder.

The state was the last to touch the stairs when it reattached the stairwell to the seawall that goes along the ocean's edge. That was in 1993, Yada said.

"We have had a complaint," Yada said. "We have an expert on safety construction looking at the stairs.

"We don't want to impact the public's access, but we don't want to leave it if it's unsafe."

Last summer, Gentry and others came together to form a community association to provide a forum to deal with security issues. The Gold Coast Neighborhood Association — named for the area below the slopes of Diamond Head from the Outrigger Canoe Club to the point by Tongg's surf spot — has about 40 members, Gentry said.

Steven Mau, the Diamond Head Ambassador's attorney, said the association wants the sea ladder removed. Mau, however, did not want to discuss the condominium's position on the ladder because the issue may wind up in court, he said.

"We're trying to have the state take responsibility," Mau said. "That's where it's at. The ladder causes a lot of grief for the residents."

In rare cases, lifeguards have used the ladder, which lifeguard Capt. Paul Merino says is slippery and a potential hazard.

"I'd imagine there are a lot of people who use those stairs as they're intended, to climb in and out of the water," Marino said. "It's out of our jurisdiction. It's a state matter."

But for people like Stinnett and his wife, Keim, the easy access is what's important for their daily swim.

Wes Kinder, a resident of the area, said he regularly helps elderly residents get into the water by way of the stairs.

"Without those stairs, you'd have to walk on coral," Kinder said. "The whole community uses those stairs. The idea of removing those stairs is not reasonable."