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Working against the tide: $600K pegged for Kahaluu Beach Park plan

Updated: 
November 2, 2017 - 8:59am

HILO — Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha wants to save Kahaluu Beach Park from the sea.

Almost 10 years after a conceptual master plan was created for one of the island’s most popular beach parks, Kanuha was successful Wednesday getting fellow members of the County Council to agree to put $600,000 into the budget to plan and design park improvements.

Some 437,650 people visited Kahaluu in the 2015-16 fiscal year, making it the island’s second-most visited beach behind Hapuna Beach State Park, according to the county Fire Department.

“Hopefully we can make this a priority for the district,” Kanuha said.

Fellow council members agreed.

“Kahaluu is the gem of the west side,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff. “The sea life is rich. People aren’t allowed to spear or fish there, so the fish are not scared.”

Bill 73 faces two more council votes. Putting the money in the 2017-18 capital budget is the first step; the money must be found and appropriated in a separate action before it can be used.

The project is also important to Mayor Harry Kim, Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen said outside the meeting.

“It’s a big priority for him,” Waltjen said. “He wants us to get going with that.”

The county, the Kohala Center and community volunteers have put a lot of work into the project over the years. But time and the tide have erased progress almost as quickly as it was made.

“Right now it’s in pretty terrible shape,” Kanuha said.

Water has crept under one of the pavilions and a large stone and concrete wall that runs across the beach, originally intended to help deter erosion, is also being undermined.

Kanuha said permits will be required for the work, and he’s also hoping for federal grants to help fund the project.

The June 2008 conceptual master plan for the park sought to restore the beach area to the specifications of a map drawn by Henry E.D. Kekahuna in 1957, which shows the beach area, heiau and Waikuaaala Pond at their original sizes before storms in the mid-1980s pushed sand toward Alii Drive, partially filling in an area of the pond.

The pond was wiped out by the tsunami of 2011 and then rebuilt. But high surf in 2013 and constant bombardment by a rising sea have made the pond unsafe, said Cindi Punihaole, director of Kahaluu Bay Education Center, a project of the Kohala Center.

“All the parties are ready to work,” she said. “We just need funding.”

Punihaole said a sea evaluation should be done before major work commences.

“We need to understand the movement of the water before we do any work on the bay,” Punihaole said.

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