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DLNR urges park users to avoid illegal gatherings this weekend

Officials are urging residents to avoid illegal gatherings at state parks over the Labor Day weekend or face penalties.

After four people were cited last Saturday following the dispersal of a 300- to 400-person event at a state park on Oahu, Department of Land and Natural Resources officials have warned that the similar activities during the holiday weekend may require the department to shut down some parks or beaches to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Jason Redulla, chief of the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, said the weekend will be an “all hands on deck” situation for DOCARE officers statewide, and encouraged residents to report illegal gatherings at parks.

“Public land is not a free venue for inviting crowds and partying,” said Curt Cottrell, administrator of the DLNR Division of State Parks. “In some instances, unfortunately, this has forced us to take the extraordinary step of closing beach parks entirely or early on certain days to stop these large gatherings, and this is at the expense of our other general public park users. And yet they continue.”

The City and County of Honolulu prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people, and Hawaii County limits outdoor gatherings to 10 people.

Cottrell and Redulla said the DLNR does not have sufficient resources to manage the environmental impacts of large gatherings, which includes high amounts of litter and human waste. Redulla added that the Saturday event on Oahu only resulted in four citations — for bringing illegal equipment into the park — because DOCARE did not have sufficient manpower to administer hundreds of citations efficiently, and attempting to do so would prolong the gathering instead of dispersing it.

On the other hand, Redulla said DOCARE is prepared to issue as many citations as necessary this weekend.

“Just because people think that we’re not going to enforce because of the size of the group … we hope people understand, that’s not a deterrent for us,” Redulla said, adding that DOCARE intends to seize as evidence any equipment used to facilitate illegal gatherings, such as tents, generators, sound equipment and more.

University of Hawaii President David Lassner said he was “disturbed” by the presence of UH students at the Saturday event, as well as their role in promoting it via social media.

The university’s Office of Student Conduct is investigating the matter to identify students and student organizations who were involved in the event and will do the same for any future illegal gatherings involving students, he said.

“We expect our students to uphold a high standard of conduct, and we are working to do better moving forward,” Lassner said. “We are also concerned about their health. These are potential super-spreader events, and we have urged any students who attended this or any other unsanctioned large gathering to get tested, monitor their symptoms and potentially get isolated and learn from a distance for 10 days.”

Students identified as participants in illegal gatherings will be subject to discipline by the UH Student Conduct Code, Lassner said. Discipline under the code can range from warnings or suspensions to expulsion, depending on the severity or frequency of the violation.

At the county level, Cyrus Johnasen, spokesman for Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth, said the administration is discussing with the Hawaii Police Department possible enforcement actions for the holiday weekend. More details will be revealed later this week, although Johnasen said the county will adopt a “no-nonsense approach.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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