KAILUA-KONA — The undermining of the seawall on Alii Drive at Oneo bay where the latest sinkhole appears has been a problem for over a decade.
It’s a problem for commuters now, however, but the county is jumping through a number of hoops to fix the problem — hopefully, for good.
The Department of Public Works responded to an email inquiry on a status report on the recurring problem stating the Engineering Division is currently working to obtain the necessary permits needed for the long-term fix.
The long-term fix includes excavating down to solid rock, backfilling with concrete and includes repairs to the wall. The permits/requirements to address the repair include grading permit, Army Corps of Engineering (ACOE) Section 10 Permit, Special Management Area Permit, and HRS 343 EA Exemption Declaration.
The State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) was contacted regarding the grading permit with request for an expedited review. SHPD has requested for an archaeological monitoring plan, which was drafted and submitted to them last week for review. Preliminary comments made by SHPD will require archaeological monitor services during grading activities.
Archaeological services will be procured once informed of any additional archaeological work requirements, among other processes the county must abide.
Upon obtaining required permits and approvals, DPW will immediately proceed with repairs.
But this isn’t the first time the area has been on the county’s radar. On the contrary, it’s been discussed for years.
The Alii Drive Improvements Along Oneo Bay project has been on the books since at least 2001, with the capital improvement budget showing federal and county funds allocated for the project. Funding also appeared in the 2003-2004 budget, and the 2007-08 Annual Report. In 2009, approximately $1.6 million in state and federal funds were available for the replacement of the seawall.
A 2009 Draft Environmental Assessment to improve Alii Drive from Hualalai Road to Walua Road was completed.
It would have provided pedestrian, landscaping, and scenic view improvements including landscape enhancements to the walkway area fronting Hale Halawai, underground placement of existing overhead utility lines and construction of a new sea wall and pedestrian walkway.
The draft EA stated the county intended to use available federal funds for the improvements. In May 2009, the state DOT published the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), for Fiscal Years 2008-2013, which included the Alii Drive Improvements Along Oneo Bay project.
The draft EA also stated “the seaward face of the existing seawall shows signs of undermining and voids which makes it difficult to consider use of the wall in its present configuration without modification or rehabilitation.”
A final EA was never completed.
Funding continued to be allocated to the project in the 2011-12 budget, including money from general obligation bonds.
Over $360,000 was paid to a civil engineer consultant for the project in 2012.
But that seawall has only received patches when it was breached. Last March, a hole several feet in diameter was patched, but opened again last month.
Neil Azevedo, Hawaii County’s highway maintenance chief, said his crew continues to monitor the hole and has not received word from Public Works on when or how it will be repaired. Meanwhile, HELCO crews were on site Tuesday preparing for construction, whenever that may be.
Sewer and gas lines also run underground where the undermining occurred. Azevedo said responsible parties for those utilities are on standby in case the situation worsens.
District 7 councilwoman Rebecca Villegas said she is deeply concerned about the recurrence of the sinkhole.
“It is imperative that our administration take action and implement a plan to permanently fix it,” she said. “Issues with this portion of the road have been the source of decades of studies, consultants and short-term remedies. Alii Drive runs through the heart of our town, the hub of economic activity. I look forward to working with the Administration and the capable team of experts who work for DPW and the Highways Division to put a plan into action.
Former County Councilman and lineal descendant of the area Curtis Tyler said the breach was inevitable. He said the seawall was completed in 1952, and it changed everything.
“There used to be a beautiful white sand beach there,” he said.
“Water, whether kai (sea water) or wai (fresh water) has a mind of its own depending on volume, speed and gradient,” Tyler added. “It has lasted pretty long considering how long it has been there dealing with the forces of nature.”