Monday, December 27, 2010


Hawaii should regulate potentially hazardous recreational activities like ziplines

by Larry Geller

A visitor trying one of the apparently proliferating zipline thrill activities should have some assurance that regulations are in place and have been complied with so that the experience will be a safe and enjoyable one.

Ziplines, as blogger Ian Lind discovered, are mostly unregulated beyond the need to get a building permit.

I’ve seen ziplines, though I must confess I was not familiar with the term. According to the Wikipedia:

A zip-line (also known as a flying fox, foefie slide, zip wire, aerial runway, aerial ropeslide, death slide or tyrolean crossing) [citation needed] consists of a pulley suspended on a cable  mounted on an incline. It is designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to traverse from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable, usually made of stainless steel, by holding on or attaching to the freely moving pulley.

Anything that could be called a “death slide” would, you’d think, be inspected regularly by some government body. Apparently not.

What brought this to attention was a legal notice sent to Big Island blogger Damon Tucker and reported by him here.  The notice demanded that an earlier blog article on reported safety concerns be removed.

Ian dug deeper, and on his own blog post today reported in detail on the issue (please read Big Island blogger faces legal pressure to withdraw reporting on zipline safety concerns (12/27/2010) for Ian’s discussion and comments).. Ian explored the issue of regulation and inspection. A snip on part of Ian’s investigation:

Attorney Whitt also provided an official-looking “Certificate of Inspection” issued by “Zipline Canopy Creations” and signed by “Julianne Lester”, apparently certifying that the ziplines have recently passed a “safety inspection”.

According to state business registration records, Lester is the registered agent for Kauai-based Zipline Canopy Creations and the president of Just Live, Inc., a recreation company also based on Kauai.

Just what Lester’s qualifications for inspecting potential safety issues such as those identified at Carlile’s Unauma site aren’t clear. A quick search yesterday left me with the impression that zipline engineering and safety are largely unregulated by the state or counties, beyond the need to get routine building permits, so the status of this “certificate of inspection” is seems questionable.

But Damon reported and Ian quoted a report that should raise concerns. Ian writes:

Damon quoted several company representatives, including company co-owners Gary Marrow and Tony Delellis, regarding their safety concerns, including allegedly substandard and rusting cables, that prompted the firm to discontinue operations at the Umauma site.

The “safety inspection” v. the  “allegedly substandard and rusting cables” cry out for regulatory control. Anything with allegedly rusty cables that could be described by Wikipedia as a “death slide” ought to catch the interest of state or local government you’d think.

Damon and Ian have provided a public service by posting information on their findings. At least those who Google for information on ziplines in Hawaii will possibly hit one of the articles. But for those who don’t Google, some official procedures and protocols need to be put in place to protect the unsuspecting public from the effects of “allegedly substandard and rusting” facilities anywhere in Hawaii.


Check with appropriate Hawaii County offices, you will find that the ziplines do not require a building permit on Ag lands, they are considered permitted use. This means they are not regulated in any way. Maui County does require a building permit. State Land Use leaves this up to the individual counties.
There must be regulations for such activities. This sort of activity must never encroach upon lands in Conservation Zones.

I hope someone will take this up. It can't be me. If there's any action on it, I can post the info.
I'm sure Damon will beat me to it, that's fine. Great that he raised this to consciousness.

Thanks Larry,

I never even thought about regulations as I just assumed it must be. However now that I think about it, of the three different Zipline tour companies that I have been on here on the Big Island, I have never seen any safety certificates or any sort of things posted that would assure me that what I'm doing is a regulated activity.

I have to give credit to Ian for discovering the issue around the "safety certificate," which is what I picked up on.

Certainly we need to do better than that, before someone is hurt for some reason.

I know for sure one person was injured, the settled for a fee and have a gag order. It was not a zipline, but some sort of pendulum swung by a crane. It may have been at the activity run by the folks who are complaining about the condition of the cables installed on the property they were using. Possibly there is a conflict between two vendors, one with the site and one with the tours. Kapohokine tours website shows a new site for their upcoming zipline. Has anyone checked to see where this might be, and how it might be regulated? That they can just install a zipline without any sort of oversight or regulation is contrary to public safety. Is Hawaii Island to become the zipline center of the world? Unregulated, there are 3 or 4 operating now, how many can we need? I've heard there is one going in near Kolekole next. Will it be functioning before Kapohokine's new one? This new activity must be regulated by the Planning Department, or engineers in Public Works Dept. Regulated and overseen...SOMEHOW!

The new ones that KapohoKine will be opening up are located near Honoli'i from what I have heard.

I have not heard of any injuries at the Umauma ones... however rumors have now started to circulate that there was an injury. I can state that I was with a group of media folks BEFORE the place first opened and that at least one injury did happen which did not require any medical treatment that I know of... however it was not serious and they were still working out the kinks on the place.

I cannot verify the above posting by the Anonymous poster though.

The problem lies with shallow thinking planning commissioners such as the vacuous faces we have sitting on our Kauai commission.
They should NEVER have twisted the law governing approved and acceptable ag land uses. The guy planting sod now looks more viable as ag land use than before.
There is a limit to how far an appropriate use can be rationalized; the Kauai commission failed once again with their approval.
I think it is a good law suit money maker...the state and counties are and have been prime targets for claims by visitors. They walk away from here very rich thanks to corrupted and mediocre commissioners and councilmen.

There is much more to this story that is currently unfolding. Kapohokine has been issued cease and desist orders from the County of Hawaii and DLNR's Office of Coastal and Conservation Lands. Kapohokine's decision to cease operation at Umauma was not about safety but was about them choosing to move to another site where they got a better deal. Rust on cables does not mean the cables are unsafe. Inspections on ziplines are generally done by an individual chosen by the insurance company. There are industry standards associated with zipline construction and operation but not governmental regulation at this time. If you journalist/bloggers want a good story, follow the mess up at Honolii where KK have bulldozed, built structures without permits in ag land and have done construction in the gulch which is zoned conservation without a use permit. They also built an illegal helipad where Paradise Helicopters have been landing for tours with them. Us Honolii folks are fed up.

Yes I agree, the County should get up there and investigate that Umauma zipline and see if it's safe or shut it down. We went there over New Years and the wires are still covered in rust and falling apart. You can see it right when you drive up, so we turned around and left. We went to the botanical garden next door which was ok. No rust.

WOW! Thanks so much Damon for your site and alerting those who care. Woah! What a scary mess! There needs to be investigation into this stuff! No Regulation??? We can't even ride an elevator, or a ride at the County Fair that isn't regulated! How can this be? Is Hawai'i like selling out? EVERYTHING is regulated these days! Plus, I always thought that the Honoli'i River was considered conservation?!! Does that mean anything to anyone? Is anyone checking on this situation? What is hey!?!?! That river/stream is a watershed at the very least, and feeds right into our surf spot and the Bay! What about that impact? What about river life, wildlife? Like o'opu and o'pai and hihiwai, etc.? What can be done? Mahalo for the ALERT! Could you please keep us posted!

Disappeared news is right! There are a lot of "anonymi" here reporting on news about the violation of conservation zoned areas of Honol'i Stream. Important issue? Looks like it's not to you. Please re-read above ..."There is much more to this story..." I did not post that, but someone who knows obviously has. This link is alive, folks are concerned. You ignoring this for some reason?

This does sound important. For you "anonymi" on the Big Island, is your County Council involved? Is there anyone sympathetic? Any mainstream journalists there who can get something into the newspaper? I mean the whole thing, including conservation issues.

Umauma Zipline gets their "certified" staff from a TEMP AGENCY. I don't understand how that's considered qualified to keep people safe. Especially when the zip lines are falling apart like in the pictures.

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