Council to discuss fate of historic swinging bridge today

LIHU‘E — For four years, the fate of the historic Kapaia Swinging Bridge has been up in the air as the deteriorating bridge itself sags into the very ravine it traverses.

Since 2007, the county has appropriated $240,000 to repair the footbridge. Of those funds, the county spent approximately $28,000 on the design and another $89,000 on a preliminary engineering report and cost estimate.

During an April 28 Kaua‘i County Council meeting, County Engineer Larry Dill revealed the preliminary cost estimate for the project — including repairs, site improvements and public access — would total some $4 million, according to a Kai Hawai‘i report.

“After an extensive review of the consultant’s study, the Department of Public Works brought the estimate of restoring the bridge, without improvements and (public) access, closer to $2 million,” Dill said.

At a community meeting on May 5, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. told the Kapaia community that the county would not pursue repairs of the bridge.

“The mayor feels that, although the bridge is a historic structure, he cannot in good conscience spend $2 million on a bridge that the public can’t access,” Dill said. “He also cannot recommend spending $4 million to restore the bridge with public access when there are so many other critical priorities that are not funded at this time.”

Despite the mayor’s direction, the fate of the bridge still hangs in the balance.

The project could go forward if it receives the support of council members. Council Chair Jay Furfaro has requested the administration’s presence before the Parks & Recreation Committee meeting today to provide an update on the bridge project.

Dill said his department will be making a presentation. Supporters of the restoration project have also indicated they plan to attend the meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. at Council Chambers in Nawiliwili.

In a widely disseminated email, council member and long-time restoration project supporter Mel Rapozo wrote: “I am committed to this project. We will be discussing the CIP budget (Tuesday), and I will be proposing that we replace the funding that was removed in the past year. We must not give up. Please be there on Wednesday to hear the update and voice your concerns. We will prevail, even if we have to do it on our own.”

The council’s budget decision-making meeting Tuesday was ongoing at press time.

Another email circulated by the Kapaia Swinging Bridge Foundation to solicit community support for the project said, “May 11 is our last chance to ask council members to keep funding for the repair on the county’s budget. We must have four votes to keep the funds. Mel Rapozo, JoAnn Yukimura and KipuKai Kuali‘i have our support. We need at least one more vote.” 

Kapaia Swinging Bridge was placed on the State Register of Historic Places in August 2008 due to the efforts of community organizations. As a historic site, there is some question as to whether restoration could be funded through grants.

“We are not aware of any appropriate grant opportunities at this time,” Dill said, “but we will continue to explore them.”

The footbridge was built in 1948 to enable Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese laborers and families to visit each other at their respective plantation camps on opposite sides of Hanama‘ulu Stream. After generations of exposure to the elements, the plank board and steel rope structure deteriorated to the point that Kaua‘i County in 2006 found it necessary to close and barricade the bridge for safety reasons.

If the county does not restore the bridge, there is also a question as to whether it will have to be torn down. Dill said there are concerns about the bridge constituting an “attractive nuisance” and some related liability issues.

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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