The Shadow’ returns to park-prowling

KAPAHI — Jerome “The Shadow” Freitas, a government watchdog, has a thing for playground equipment.

Nine months ago, he protested to county officials about worn playground equipment at Wiliko Park in Hanama’ulu. Nothing has been done, he said.

And on a recent visit to Kapahi Park in Kawaihau District, and after hearing two children voice their displeasure over what they perceived as the deteriorating condition of playground equipment there, Freitas knew he had to act.

He again complained to county officials for action, in the name of public and keiki safety.

“We are talking about safety for the public. Have the playground equipment in good shape for the kids,” Freitas told The Garden Island. “Some equipment is old and obsolete, and that is why they (children) don’t play here.”

Kapahi is a “big community,” and is as deserving of a playground makeover as any other community on the island, Freitas said.

Government officials have said they want to work with Freitas, but have stopped short of moving on all his requests, at least immediately, due to funding limitations and pending work on other county projects.

Freitas said that explanation doesn’t wash with him, because government leaders have a responsibility to residents to maintain play equipment in a safe condition.

“What is the priority here?” Freitas asked. “Safety is the priority. It doesn’t matter whether there is a safety issue here or at any other county park. You (government officials) have to take care of the whole island.” County Engineer Donald Fujimoto has fielded his concerns about replacing older county structures and facilities, and shoring up county-owned roads.

Fujimoto could not be reached for comment last week.

Freitas said county leaders should spend a little money replacing old swings and climbing structures at Kapahi Park.

“Kapahi is a big community, and they have a lot of people up here, a lot of kids up there who need to have good equipment,” Freitas said.

How does he know that people aren’t satisfied with conditions at Kapahi Park?

“The parents tell me, and that is all I need to know,” Freitas said. “Two weeks ago, when I was at the park, I came across a brother and sister who said they didn’t want to use the old playground stuff.

“I talked with the mother, and they told her that they would rather play at the playground at St. Catherine’s Church,” Freitas said, which is located off Kawaihau Road, across the street from Kapa’a High School and Kapa’a Elementary School.

“The St. Catherine’s Church playground is opened, but the problem is that it is private. There is a liability problem.”

Freitas said the repairs should be made at Kapahi Park, because the county “has the money.”

In recent years, more money has come to the county through higher assessments of properties, and more construction.

However, sizable portions of those newly received funds have gone back to residents in the from property-tax relief approved by both Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste and members of the Kaua’i County Council.

Freitas insists that whatever funds are available should be used for improving Kapahi Park and other county parks.

He said he is still waiting for improvements to be made at Wiliko Park in Hanama’ulu. Freitas said he made a request for the work nine months ago.

“I am not against the men (county workers), but do it (making the improvements) for the kids,” Freitas said. “They deserve it.”

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