Kuawa Street park nearly ready for use

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo The Kuawa Street park in Hilo remains closed.

The long-delayed Kuawa Street park in Hilo is “99 percent” sure to open by this summer, according to county Parks and Recreation officials.

Roxcie Waltjen, Parks and Recreation director, clarified the status of the park during a meeting Tuesday of the county Committee on Parks and Recreation, and confirmed repeatedly her belief that the park will be ready for use within the next few months.

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Waltjen’s update was requested by Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who said she wanted to assuage public concerns about the park.

In a summary of the project’s history, Waltjen recounted the park’s progress and the various setbacks that repeatedly delayed its completion.

Work on the park began in 2016, the same year it was expected to be completed. Severe weather and soil contamination pushed the completion date into 2017, when it was then discovered the site had severe drainage issues that led to ponding throughout the park.

Those problems were since rectified, Waltjen said.

Sheets of geotextile fabrics, which serve as soil filters, are separating the contaminated soil from the 24-inch-thick layer of clean soil that now covers the site, while new swales, dry wells and perimeter drainpipes improved the site’s drainage problems and minimized ponding issues.

“As of today, the drainage is good,” Waltjen said.

Most recently, Waltjen said, contractors worked to fertilize the soil to maximize the growth of grass on the field. Next month, she added, 40 tons of mulch will be spread across the field to further stimulate growth.

“It’s working,” said deputy Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina. “There’s been a significant change to the field in just the last week.”

Waltjen also used the committee meeting to clarify misconceptions about the ongoing project. For example, she said, the repeated issues of flooding were unrelated to the site’s elevation. Contrary to what some criticism of the project claimed, the site is above sea level, and there was no correlation between the sea level and the flooding.

Furthermore, Waltjen repudiated suggestions that the former issues with contaminated soil mean that the completed park will expose children to contaminants.

Lee Loy asked Waltjen and Messina whether the cost of the project inflated during its long delay. However, Waltjen said the price tag remains the same as in 2016: $3.3 million, thanks to use of volunteer work and county equipment.

“I just want people to be sure their tax dollars are being well spent,” Lee Loy said.

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Waltjen said the project came with a “learning curve”: the Kuawa Street park was a holdover project from the previous county administration, and she was only appointed to her position in 2017. Messina said he has made sure that every new Parks and Recreation project is brought before all divisions within the department in order to improve communication going forward.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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