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County decades behind on ADA compliance at parks

  • The Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation is proposing accessibility and other improvements for Milolii Beach Park in South Kona. (Photo from Draft EA/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Richardson Ocean Park is on the list for ADA compliance (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

Almost a quarter-century after Big Island resident Alexa Russell sued Hawaii County to enforce Americans With Disabilities Act mandates in county parks, only six of the 16 facilities the county agreed to upgrade have been done, and the County Council will be asked to float $25.5 million in bonds to pay for the rest.

Russell filed the suit in federal court in 1997. She and the county settled the case in 1998, and the parties have been holding regular status conferences ever since.

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Hilo resident Toby Hazel has been so frustrated with the slow county progress on ADA compliance she called the judge herself, according to a March 15 court entry that summarized the phone call and noted that Hazel was informed the judge was not permitted to discuss the case with her.

“I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to call the judge. I just got frustrated, but evidently that’s a no-no,” Hazel said Friday. “How much more foot-dragging has got to go on before they can address these things that have been going on for decades? They run you around the mulberry bush.”

Hazel, who’s approaching 80, said she’s also concerned about two Hilo parks that aren’t even on the list. She said Onekahakaha and Carlsmith beach parks are in desperate need of handrails.

“Able-bodied people don’t understand the struggle of elderly and disabled people,” Hazel said. “I was probably the same way when I was younger. Now I understand the struggle.”

The remaining 10 parks in the consent order are Papaaloa Park, Paauilo Park, Kolekole Gulch Park, Disappearing Sands Beach Park (also known as Magic Sands and Laaloa), Richardson Ocean Park, NAS Swimming Pool, Pahala Swimming Pool, Kahuku Park, Milolii Beach Park and South Hilo Base Yard, according to a June 17 letter Mayor Mitch Roth wrote the County Council, asking for the $25.5 million bond issue.

“There are 10 projects remaining to be completed under the agreement,” Roth said. “The projects must be completed by 2022.”

The council is scheduled to take up Bill 48, authorizing the general obligation bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the taxpayers, at its July 7 council meeting.

The bill is being fast-tracked so the county can report its progress to federal Magistrate Judge Rom Trader at an Aug. 25 status conference. At the most recent status conference on May 6, the county reported the award of two contracts, with construction to begin shortly on the NAS swimming pool and Kahuku Park. In addition, a public meeting was scheduled to solicit community feedback on the Milolii Beach Park project.

“Our County’s debt service capacity has been reviewed to ensure we have the capacity to issue additional bonds up to the requested amount. With this authorization of $25,500,000, our debt service percentage will be approximately 13.1%,” Roth said. “This percentage is within our (Government Finance Officers Association) guideline that debt service expenditures should be below 15% of total expenditures each year.”

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Calls to county Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina, attorneys for plaintiff Russell and county Corporation Counsel were not returned by press-time Friday.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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