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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Allís not well at Windward park

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Kawika Aloiau, 5, strikes a pose after taking a dip in the ocean off Kualoa Regional Park. The area was closed to swimming for five months this year because of contamination. And, while warning signs have been gone since late May, wastewater problems at the park remain.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The city plans to spend $1.3 million to replace the sewage system at Kualoa park. But before work begins, some Hawaiians want to take a look at the city's plan. Burial remains in the area are of particular concern.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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KUALOA ó Children once again are swimming in waters off Kualoa Regional Park, an area that was closed for five months this year following a spike in contamination.

A long-term solution to persistent wastewater problems at the site, however, remains elusive.

State warning signs that banned swimming, fishing and boating in waters near the park were removed in late May.

City officials have earmarked nearly $1.3 million to replace a malfunctioning wastewater system that was blamed for the contamination. But before construction begins, some Hawaiians want to take a hard look at the city's overall plan.

"Anything you do at Kualoa park needs to be sensitive," said Wayne Panoke, a member of the Kahalu'u Neighborhood Board and of the Ko'olauloa Hawaiian Civic Club.

Panoke said city officials should meet with the community to discuss its plans, timeline and process. "I want to sit down with them and ... come to a decision."

Early in December, the state posted temporary signs warning users to stay out of the water near the first restroom at Kualoa park. But continued high counts of bacteria, blamed on the city's wastewater system there, prompted the state to install permanent metal warning signs by the end of January.

Warriors and children of the ali'i were trained at Kualoa, considered by some to be a sacred place. Located there are a heiau, fishpond, burial sites and remnants of a village. The burials are of particular interest to Hawaiians.

BURIAL REMAINS

Residents said they are affected by restrictions on park access.

"Maybe five, six years ago, Kualoa beach park was ranked No. 3 of the most beautiful beach park camps in the world," said Darling Kukahiko, with Hope Chapel Kahalu'u. "If they were to take a picture now they would obviously not think we have the most beautiful park."

Kukahiko said Hope Chapel members have been coming to the park once or twice a month for four or five years, bringing children to swim, dive and play.

The city has tried to repair or replace the park's wastewater system for at least six years.

A plan to fix the system, drafted after the state Department of Health cited the city for a sewage spill there in June 2000, was suspended later that year because of the possibility of disturbing Hawaiian burial remains.

That led to negotiations between city officials and members of the Hawaiian community, yielding a plan for an "above-ground" system that would limit construction site digging to 2 inches. But the city canceled that plan in 2002 when officials determined that installing the system's structural foundation would require digging deeper into the soil.

Panoke said if the city's latest effort to address the flawed wastewater system alters the 2-inch design, he intends to involve the O'ahu Island Burial Council. The burial council oversees the removal and reburial of remains, typically of Native Hawaiians, unearthed during construction work.

The city's Department of Design and Construction will handle the replacement work, said Lester Chang, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, noting that he hopes to expedite construction because the park is heavily used.

"I'm trying to get this thing accelerated," Chang said.

In November the city virtually shut down the park's wastewater system, thinking it caused the contamination. The city began holding sewage in tanks and pumping it out. It also shut one of five restrooms and limited camping, particularly to large groups. Today, pumping continues, the restroom remains closed and camping is still limited. The city is spending about $1,560 a month ó a discounted rate ó to pump the system twice a week, he said.

Chang said he's still not sure what caused the contamination but he was glad the state lifted its ban on swimming, fishing and boating in waters near the park. Heavy rains could have contributed to the sustained high contamination levels, he said.

INOPERABLE SYSTEMS

The wastewater system at the park has had problems for decades.

In a February report by the state Department of Health, a city employee was quoted as saying that the system's "cavitettes" haven't operated properly for at least 20 years. Waste is processed in the cavitettes before effluent is discharged into the ground.

The report was completed after an inspection by the state Wastewater Branch in December. Each restroom's disposal system was inspected and the report concluded all of the park's cavitette systems were inoperable.

The report also listed three violations: failure to notify the state about modifications to the system, failure to properly operate and maintain the system and failure to notify the Board of Certification that it had initiated operations of a wastewater system.

In June 2000, the Health Department cited the city for a sewage spill. By November of that year, the city suspended a plan to fix the system because of the possibility of disturbing Hawaiian buried remains.

Wil Ho, Windward O'ahu district manager for the parks department, said getting early public input on the new system could avoid wasting time. But the process could come with difficult choices, including whether to move burial remains, Ho said.

But the above-ground solution also has drawbacks because the tank for the system would be exposed, he said, and the tanks can reach a height of 8 feet. "It will be a challenge and it's more important that the process begins and we get a good participation from the community," Ho said.

The recent park ban caused schools to cancel programs and kept campers away. Hakipu'u Charter School, which held regular classes at the park, wouldn't let children swim there until now.

And the Royos family from Waiahole Valley said they stayed away for months. Even now they are careful about the restrooms because they are moldy, smelly and in disrepair, Juslyn Kane said.

"We actually go home to take a bath," Jessie Royos said. "It's not something you would even want to go in. Everything is really filthy."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.