HILO — Two Hawaii County parks north of Hilo, closed since 2017, could reopen this summer.
Hakalau and Kolekole beach parks, both located in gulches under Highway 19, were closed after lead was found in the ground near the highway bridges.
The contamination is the result of lead paint flaking off from the spans, and cleanup is the responsibility of the state Department of Transportation.
Don Smith, DOT’s Hawaii Island district engineer, said cleanup, which could be as simple as removing top soil, could be complete in May or June for Kolekole and July or August for Hakalau.
Cleanup will begin after additional boring is done at Kolekole to determine the depth of the contamination, and additional assessments are done at Hakalau to pin down the extent of the contaminated area.
Smith said it wasn’t done sooner because of the need for additional funds and other needs associated with recent natural disasters, such as the Kilauea eruption.
Repairs to a small bridge used to access the Hakalau park also caused some delay.
That project is what initially prompted the park’s closure in February 2017. The bridge was repaired in 2018.
Hawaii County has kept it closed since, pending the lead cleanup.
Kolekole closed in April 2017.
The park closures have frustrated nearby residents, who have limited access points to the ocean along the coast.
Thomas Gehweiler said he and his wife used to drive to Hakalau park each morning. He’d rather see the parks not closed completely.
“I’d surf, she’d read a book on the beach or collect shells and enjoy ourselves,” said Gehweiler of Hakalau.
“We miss it and a lot of other people miss it,” he added.
Roxcie Waltjen, county Parks and Recreation director, said she apologizes for the inconvenience.
“We’re just as anxious as anyone else, trust me,” she said.
Maurice Messina, deputy parks director, said both parks, before they can be reopened, will have to be assessed and cleaned up after the lead is removed.
He said the department also will need to address ADA compliance issues at Kolekole before reopening.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.