LIHU’E — Hundreds of volunteers have been wondering when the professionals will take over the gateway project, a $5-million project to beautify roads leading to Lihu’e Airport.
They needn’t wonder any more.
At a recent gathering of volunteers at the Kaua’i War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihu’e, Steve Kyono, who heads the state Department of Transportation Highways Division office on Kaua’i, reported that a contractor approved by state DOT officials could take over maintenance of the project by December at the latest.
The announcement marks the end of more than three years of volunteer service by residents, the mainstay of the project started in 2002.
Since that time, volunteers have taken care of some six miles of roadway that are part of the project.
The volunteers were supposed to have handed the project over to state officials by summer 2004.
But because state funds couldn’t be found, volunteers were asked and agreed to take care of bougainvillea hedges, trees, grass, brush, and tropical plants for another year and then some.
Bids for the work have gone out and are now under review by state DOT Highways Division officials, Kyono said.
Because the bids are under review, Kyono said it would be inappropriate to discuss how much in state funds could be used for the project.
But the “state has budget funds to contract the landscape maintenance for the gateway (project),” Kyono said.
DOT officials would like small companies to have a shot at getting the maintenance contract, so they have “put out two separate bids, one for Kapule Highway and one on Ahukini Road,” Kyono said.
Kyono, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste and Eddie Sarita, convention hall manager and the organizer of volunteers for the gateway project, gave their heartfelt thanks to volunteers who have stayed with the program for so long.
As a show of appreciation for the work of the volunteers, pupus were provided at the function, sponsored by Kaua’i County.
The volunteers included residents and representatives from banks and hotels, helicopter companies and churches, and employees with Kauai Nursery & Land-scaping Inc., the largest landscaping company on the island.
The project got underway during the administration of former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, who was successful in securing $4 million in federal funds for the project. Securing the funds was contingent on the county providing $1 million in “in-kind” services, which translated into the work of the volunteers.
The project, she felt, would be a good way to say “aloha” to visitors when they arrived and “mahalo” when they left. Residents who participated in the maintenance project saw it as a point of civic pride.
Kusaka was on hand to thank the volunteers for carrying on with the project after she left office.
Prior to becoming mayor, Baptiste served as the first coordinator of the landscaping project, which had 300 volunteers at one time.
Leaders of some groups that had volunteered for the project eventually dropped out, citing other obligations.
But Sarita, on his own, took on myriad maintenance projects along the gateway routes, most of the time by himself.
On his days off, Sarita trimmed hedges and brush on hot and windless days. As coordinator of the project, Sarita said he felt compelled to do the job even when others decided not to.
Theodore Daligdig III, a member and former chairman of the Kaua’i County Planning Commission, and Queenie Pezario were singled out for their contributions.
Daligdig, Pezario and their families took care of at least six individual lots on Kapule Highway.
In the past, volunteers also got help from participants in the Kauai Drug Court program and inmates at the Kauai Correctional Center in Wailua.
In 2004, the volunteers were honored by USA Weekend magazine’s annual “Make a Difference Day” program.
The Lihu’e gateway project received the award for Kaua’i, which was cosponso red by The Garden Island and USA Weekend magazine.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org