The closure of the beach park on the island of Hawaii will take over a decade


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Tribune Herald

Lead paint from the Hakalau Stream Bridge contaminated the soil of Hakalau Beach Park, leading to its closure since 2017.

According to the state Department of Transportation, the long-closed Hakalau Beach Park on the island of Hawaii is scheduled to reopen in late 2028, more than a decade after it closed to the public.

The park, located about 15 miles north of Hilo, closed in 2017 after extensive lead contamination was found in the park's soil, attributed to lead paint used on the Hakalau Stream Bridge.

Although it closed at the same time and for the same reason as nearby Kolekole Beach Park, that park has reopened several times – most recently last week – while Hakalau has remained closed. Of the two parks, Hakalau's soil was found to have a higher concentration of lead in 2018.

However, the U.S. Department of Transportation in January announced a $74.6 million allocation to the state to rehabilitate the aging Hakalau and Nanue bridges. The remediation of Hakalau also includes remediation of lead-contaminated soil in the park.

A draft environmental impact assessment for the Hakalau project released on April 23 set the park's tentative reopening date at the end of 2028.

The assessment states that the park will not reopen until the bridge rehabilitation is completed and the bridge rehabilitation will not begin until the soil rehabilitation work is completed.

Both parts of the project require extensive work.

According to the assessment, more than 7,600 cubic meters of toxic soil will have to be removed from the park and replaced with clean fill for the renovation work. Vegetation would also be replaced, with the exception of large trees, which would be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” the draft assessment says.

The contaminated soil would be disposed of at the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill.

The bridge's substructure is now nearing the end of its useful life – a 2011 investigation found that the bridge has “unstable” foundations and that at least one bridge foundation is in urgent need of repair before the actual project begins.

The planned work on the bridge would replace all seven of the bridge's steel trestles with new concrete trestles and install new foundations to protect the structure from a “200-year storm.” The expansion could be completed without a long-term full closure of the bridge, although some single-lane closures may be required during the roughly three-year construction period.

The entire project has an estimated cost of $78 million.

While the recent reopening of Kolekole Gulch Park may have lessened the impact, some Hamakua residents are frustrated that one of the county's few beach parks is only reopening more than a decade after it first closed.

“It just depresses me more and more,” said resident Thomas Gehweiler. “I was a surfer, man. I liked Hakalau because it was less crowded than Kolekole and I went there every day.”

While Gehweiler has been vocal about the need to reopen the park for years, he said the constant closures have worn him down.

“I kind of gave up on it,” Gehweiler said. “I don’t know, I’ve been here 50 years and none of these beach parks are what they used to be.”

Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said last week that the county is ready to provide whatever assistance the state DOT needs and he looks forward to reopening as soon as possible. But because it is solely the DOT's responsibility — it was the paint on the bridge that caused the contamination problems — the county is largely disconnected from the project.

Anna Harden

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