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Warm pond repairs on ice: County awaits permit to make Ahalanui swim area safe for keiki

Updated: 
October 7, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — Hawaii County is seeking permission to repair Ahalanui Beach Park infrastructure in Puna.

“As we speak, the request for the permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources has been sent out,” said Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen.

In March, Mayor Harry Kim said repair of the keiki pond was a top priority because it is one of only two spots for kids to swim in Puna.

The other, the Pohoiki boat ramp, is not designed for swimmer safety.

The Ahalanui keiki pond was damaged when El Niño ocean swells lifted concrete and deposited it atop the pond a few years ago.

Parks and Recreation maintenance crews were aware of repair needs, but a project request never made it all the way up the chain of command — until the Tribune-Herald asked Kim to comment.

Crews have since surveyed the damage.

On Tuesday, Ahalanui park officials said about 60 people, including children, were in the adult warm pond. About 50 more were using other areas of the park.

About 550 people visit the park weekdays, often on their way to or from the lava ocean entry. About 1,100 visit on weekends and holidays.

Waltjen said it remains unclear whether repairs can be done to the keiki pond, walkways and other infrastructure internally by county Parks and Recreation staff. If not, repairs will need to be contracted out.

That’s key, Waltjen said, for determining how fast repairs can happen.

If Parks and Recreation staff can make the repairs, she said, renovation will start quickly and won’t take long to complete.

However, if DLNR determines the repairs will need multiple stages and heavy equipment, procurement protocols will need to be followed and time for bids will be required.

The reason the county must get a permit, Waltjen said, is that the state has jurisdiction over waterways, including ocean shoreline. That’s required to help avoid pollution and environmental damage, she said.

The keiki pond sits just offshore at Ahalanui.

Ocean surf fills the adult swim area, which reaches about 7 feet deep during the summer. The ocean water gets volcanically heated until the tide begins to take it out again. Then it’s refreshed with new water as the tide rises.

The keiki pond never gets much above 2 feet deep during that process, and it’s much safer than the adult pool for little ones (lifeguards even direct some physically vulnerable adults to the keiki pond).

Waltjen said the project “is really important to us” and that Kim in particular wants the repair work to happen as soon as possible.

“Once we get the permit back, it’ll tell us how it’ll all be planned,” Waltjen said. “It probably will take stages.”

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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