Two North Hilo beach parks long closed to the public will be the subject of an hourlong presentation next week by the county Department of Parks and Recreation.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council’s Committee of Parks and Recreation, council members will discuss the current status of Hakalau Beach Park and Kolekole Beach Park, which were both closed in 2017 for unrelated reasons.
Hakalau Beach Park was closed in February 2017 due to safety concerns surrounding Hakalau Bridge, the sole access point to the beach park by road, which was discovered to have a deteriorated foundation.
Kolekole Beach Park, meanwhile, was closed in April 2017 after high amounts of lead were found in the soil there. At the time, the source of the lead was unknown, but it is currently believed that it originated from lead-based paint on the support pillars of a Highway 19 bridge spanning across the gulch where the park is located.
After Kolekole closed, high amounts of lead also were found around the highway bridge passing over Hakalau Beach Park as well.
Since 2017, despite occasional progress reports from the state about cleanup or repair projects, both parks have remained closed to the public, to the consternation of many residents, said North Hilo Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter.
“For a long time, I’ve been getting calls complaining about it,” Poindexter said. “And I don’t blame them. Right now, the closest beach park people have to go to is either in Laupahoehoe or Hilo.”
One resident, 71-year-old Thomas Gehweiler, said he bought a property in the area 40 years ago specifically because of the parks, but now the nearest wheelchair-accessible beach park is in Laupahoehoe.
“It’s really got to be fixed, man; it’s a public resource,” Gehweiler said. “And it’s not just some people trying to go there. There’s lots of tourists trying to go there. It used to be you couldn’t find a place to park some days, there were so many tourists there.”
Gehweiler said he has repeatedly tried to get more information about the closures over the years from the county, but little information has been forthcoming.
Poindexter, who requested the Department of Parks and Recreation make a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, said she is frustrated by the state’s apparent lack of urgency in making the necessary changes.
Poindexter said Don Smith, the state Department of Transportation’s former Hawaii Island district engineer, had previously told her that the necessary lead analysis at Kolekole had been completed in 2019, and all that needs to be done now is to fence off the most contaminated areas, but has not yet been done.
Smith told the Tribune-Herald in early 2019 that lead cleanup at both parks could have been completed by July or August of that year.
“I don’t know who’s holding it up at this point,” Poindexter said. “So that’s for us to figure out. But I think we’re all tired of how ridiculously slow this has been.”
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