Jerome Freitas, known as the Shadow because of his government-watchdog inclinations, has a suggested new year’s resolution for County Engineer Donald Fujimoto: work on new projects, but don’t forget to work on projects from 2005.
In response, county officials say they are ready, and welcome his input to help make Kaua’i a better place.
Since 2004, Freitas has driven around the island to find unsafe and old roads, bridges and government facilities, has taken pictures of them, and has filed complaints with representatives of government agencies in hopes repair or replacement work will take place.
“For the safety of the public, the residents and the tourists.” Freitas told The Garden Island. “It is not about me. Never was.”
Since filing his concerns with Fujimoto and other county officials, he has seen railings installed at old bridges, a former cane-haul bridge over Kapa’a Stream in Kealia dismantled due to age, and operations at waste-transfer stations streamlined for efficiency.
The Kealia bridge was slated for demolition anyway, with a new bridge planned to be part of the coastal walking and bicycling path eventually planned to stretch from Anahola to Kalapaki.
Freitas said he likes the progress made so far.
He said what concerns him are the projects county officials have told him they would be working on, but have yet to do so thus far.
Such projects include improving the road by a cemetery in Kapa’a, controlling erosion problems along roads in the Kawaihau District, which is home to the largest population area of the island, and putting up guardrails and cutting back vegetation on roads to lessen the risk of vehicular accidents.
“I don’t get (it),” Freitas said. “When they going to get to it?”
County officials have acknowledged and responded to some the problems raised by Freitas, but note that all the repairs requested by Freitas can’t happen overnight, and that fixing them is part of a gradual process involving priority and availability of funds and manpower.
For this year, Freitas wants to see the replacement of a bridge along Pu’u’opae Road in Wailua Homesteads. The trusses of the bridge, which serves several hundred residents each day, are rusting, he said.
“The bridge was built in 1898, and needs to be replaced,” Freitas said. “I have taken pictures underneath the bridge, and it is rusting.”
Freitas also said the bridge by the old Wong’s Care Home at the end of Kawaihau Road is no longer sturdy, and needs to be repaired or replaced.
“When the cars go by, the bridge vibrates,” Freitas said. “People who live near the bridge say they can’t sleep at night (because of the reverberating noise of vehicles that go over the bridge).”
Freitas said he isn’t blaming anyone for the delays, but if the repair work isn’t done, an accident or fatality can occur, and the county will pay the consequences.
“They say they don’t have the money to fix. Too bad,” Freitas said. “They are going to be sued.”
In speaking on behalf of Fujimoto, Ed Renaud, superintendent of the county Department of Public Works Roads Division, said he welcomes input from Freitas.
“I touch basis with him each week, and when he comes up with photographs (of structures needing repairs), we will be going out there,” Renaud said.
Renaud said he is trying to get his supervisors to take comments from Freitas in a positive way.
“People like Jerome are a big asset,” Renaud said. “And they (supervisors) have to understand that.”
Renaud said that, if he had his way, he would “hire Jerome if I could.”
Anyone who has concerns about worn county facilities or roads in need of repair can call Freitas at 635-3528.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org