'Opala piles up along Makaha road, as officials point fingers
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
For months, piles of bagged rubbish, tires, vehicle parts, cabinets, glass, broken furniture and other debris have collected along both sides of a section of Farrington Highway in Mäkaha that fronts a mile-long stretch of jungle commonly known as "the bush," "the wild west," or "no man's land."
This harsh environment sits on unimproved city and county parkland that has no water or facilities of any kind.
The trash is a perennial problem, but it has worsened as the bush population exploded following the city's beach park cleanup campaign, which displaced droves of homeless tent dwellers along the coast, according to Mark Suiso, a member of a local environmental cleanup group that has adopted the highway there.
Today, the dense thicket of underbrush is home to dozens of homeless men, women and children, in addition to a vast menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens, pigs and other critters.
Aggravating the problem is confusion over who's responsible for the mounds of trash from the remote, unimproved section of city parkland that end up on the state highway.
Meanwhile, as the garbage continues to build, nothing much has happened to address the problem, say those who have complained about it.
Area resident and former Honolulu City Councilman John DeSoto said the community has grown weary of the highway heaps, which present a health and safety concern.
"The problem is the rules and regulations are not being enforced," said DeSoto, who added that the city tells him it's the state's problem, and the state points at the city.
"It is a safety hazard, and a community concern," added Michael Kahikina, the Ho- nolulu Police Department's Wai'anae Coast community policing officer, who said he too has tried to get either the city or the state to commit to removing the junk piles.
"The problem is that nobody wants to take responsibility for that place."
The area in question is about a mile west of Kili Drive, immediately past Kea'au Beach Park, and about two miles east of the entrance to Kaena Point State Park.
Markus Owens, public information officer for the city Department of Environmental Services, said city refuse workers collect trash from residential areas before Kea'au Beach Park, as well as two homes beyond the unimproved wilderness area.
"We do pick up those two residences," said Owens. "Those are the only residential homes we serve past Kea'au Beach Park."
Owens said city refuse collectors do not pick up trash on state roadways, such as Farrington Highway. Nor do they serve improved city parks, where trash is collected by city parks personnel.
Brennon Morioka, director of the state Department of Transportation, said his agency wants to do its part to resolve the problem. However, he stressed the solution would have to be a "shared concern."
"The DOT cannot become a refuse collection agency," said Morioka. "But we are liable for the health and safety of our roadways, regardless of where the stuff comes from."
Morioka said the department has worked with community members and area legislators on the situation. The DOT is ready to provide personnel and equipment, such as trucks, to haul off the trash, he said.
"We do need help," said Morioka, who said he would seek assistance from other state agencies, such as the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services. "We are going to ask for the city to help us, because refuse collection is a part of their mission. We're asking the community for their help because we do believe that it is a social issue.
"If it means the DOT being the broker or facilitator, then that's what we want to be."
Suiso, a board member of Nani 'O Wai'anae, a local environmental cleanup group that has adopted the highway beyond Kea'au Beach Park, was cautiously encouraged by Morioka's remarks.
Still, Suiso said the effort would require a "Herculean commitment."
He said his group had agreed to arrange cleanups along the highway and the DOT would provide the garbage bags and haul away the trash after the cleanups were finished.
But he said the build-up along the highway reached such proportions in recent months that Nani 'O Wai'anae could no longer handle it.
"As a community group you've got to organize the effort, and you're required to do at least four a year," said Suiso. "And we've really just stepped away from it because we've become so overwhelmed. It's really gotten out of hand."
Jamie Kealoha, 32, has lived in the bushes for several years. She said officials from some agency came in months ago and told folks if they bagged up their trash and set it beside the highway it would be picked up and hauled away.
"But that never happened," she said. "Maybe it did once or twice. But it hasn't happened since. And that was over a year ago."
So, folks in the bush continue to bag up their garbage and place it by the roadside, she said. If it stays there too long, dogs, cats and vermin rip the bags to pieces, which creates an even bigger mess.
Homeless inhabitants are left to either rebag the garbage or persuade an acquaintance or relative who owns a truck to come in and haul the rubbish to the landfill, Kealoha said.
Meanwhile, the mountains of debris continue to expand.
Suiso said a joint state, city and community effort would succeed only if everyone worked together to establish a regularly scheduled pickup time, and stuck to it.
"I have to agree with (Morioka) to some degree — the DOT can't be the trash pickup service," Suiso said. "The residents in the immediate area need to take responsibility for it. In this case, the landowner is the city and county."
DeSoto sees the trash problem as a symptom of a larger and thornier issue.
"We, as people who want to use the beach, can't do that because we have people there who have problems," he said. "Some of them might be homeless, but most of them are chronics. They are taking kindness as a form of weakness and they are abusing it. The bottom line is what they're doing out there is illegal."
HPD's Kahikina said frustration comes from the fact that, when the issue is homelessness, too many people point fingers and look for simple solutions instead of tackling the complicated, and often messy, reality of the subject.
"Everybody has got to come to grips with the fact that there's no way we're ever going to beat homelessness," he said. "It's happening. This is a social issue. So the best thing we can do is deal with it."