WAILUA — The county spent more than a decade securing the necessary permits to dredge Morgan’s Ponds at Lydgate Beach Park. Now that the work is done, some long-time users are raising concerns about the finished product.
Visibility in the water remains the primary issue. Kaua‘i officials say the ponds will clear up over time as nature runs its course, but for others doubts linger.
There are two coastal ponds that comprise Morgan’s Ponds. The main pond is designed to accommodate swimmers and snorkelers; the smaller one is ideal for children.
After Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992, the main pond which was once 14-feet deep gradually filled with sand until its depth shrank to about 4 feet. After an eight-week restoration project by the county, the ponds reopened June 17 with a maximum depth of 9 feet.
Wailua resident Lucia Eichenberger said she used to swim daily in the pond. Since the restoration work, water visibility has significantly changed. She said she now enters into a “cloud of mud” after a few strokes.
The state Department of Health on June 17 released the results of a water quality test indicating the water was safe for public use. The report also stated that bacteria levels remained acceptable and turbidity — measurement of light blockage in the water — has been fluctuating as expected since the pond’s restoration.
County Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said the turbidity level has been gradually dissipating since the pond has opened.
“If you were there the day we opened and the way it is like today — greatly different in one month time,” he said. “Of course the deeper part is going to take a little bit longer (to clear).”
“I believe that the measure of turbidity that the DOH comes up with is absolutely meaningless, because they only take a sample on one part in the pond, which is close to shore where the turbidity is actually less,” she said. “They should sample all over the pond.”
Eichenberger blamed the turbidity on the silt that has been exposed on the bottom of the pond when the restoration took place.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s turbidity and the bottom is not all sandy,” said Councilman Tim Bynum, adding that the new increased depth has also created extra awareness for the lifeguards. “But that’s how it was 15 years ago, it was deep in the middle.”
Professor John Lydgate said everything Eichenberger claimed was true.
Lydgate Beach Park was named after Lydgate’s ancestor, Rev. John M. Lydgate, founder of the Lihu‘e English Union Church and the Kaua‘i Historical Society.
Lydgate said he was embarrassed when he saw a young couple leaving after trying to snorkel in the pond, which is appropriate for beginners.
“It is murky, you can’t really snorkel,” said Lydgate, adding that he had swam in the pond early that morning and could not see the bottom.
Rapozo said the project was to take sand from the pond and enhance the beach with it.
“After they started to excavate, three feet beyond, all the silt came out,” he said. “I guess no one had anticipated we were going to have this material. We thought we were going to have all sand, and we were going to do this nice beach nourishment for everyone.”
The DOH then told the county that the silt could not go on the beach. “But we continued the project as to what we wanted to do in terms of dredging the pond,” Rapozo said.
Bynum defended the ponds’ restoration, saying the DOH used to close the ponds often due to unsafe bacteria levels. He also noted the pond was becoming so shallow that lap swimmers would hit the bottom.
“In a few years we wouldn’t have had a swimming pond there,” he said.
Rapozo said the ponds were constructed to provide a calm, safer area.
“We take it as being natural, but it’s not natural,” he said. “It’s a man-made thing.”
Bynum said the efforts to restore the pond took 15 years, and current environmental laws would never allow for another pond.
The ponds were built in 1964, after the late Sen. Billy Fernandes lobbied the state government and secured an $18,000 appropriation. The idea came from Albert Morgan Sr., upon his return from a 1958 trip to Italy, where he had seen sheltered swimming areas, according to the Historical Marker Database website.
Fernandes died June 2 at age 88. Morgan died May 22, 2001, at age 93.
Councilman Dickie Chang said he stood in the pond Monday and sank into the silt up to his calves, which he compared to the mud on a lo‘i, or taro field.
“It’s the weirdest feeling being in salt water instead of in a lo‘i, but that’s what that bottom feels,” he said.
Tommy Noyes, general coordinator for the Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park, said he snorkeled Saturday in the pond for the first time since the restoration. Noyes’ group has put several thousand volunteer-hours into building structures and cleaning the beach at Lydgate Park. Friends of Kamalani still does a beach clean-up every Saturday morning.
“I would describe the visibility as poor,” he said. “I couldn’t see any marine life.”
He said he was recently told by Gary Winton, DOH Clean Water Branch monitor, that disease-causing bacteria levels have been within acceptable range and turbidity levels have fluctuated but are tending toward less turbidity.
Noyes said the current layer of silt is one-foot deep.
“The silt is not muddy, it does not stick to your skin, it just floats away,” he said. “The silt layer feels sort of like loose pudding.”
It’s hard to predict how the pond will turn out, Noyes said, but noted that the silt was there prior to the project, mixed in with the sand.
Eichenberger said one way to fix the problem is to place a “membrane” on top of the silt and cover it with sand.
“It’s like surgery, after you pull the stitches out it takes a while to heal,” Lydgate said.
The council on Wednesday unanimously deferred making a decision on how to proceed until Nov. 2. In the meantime, the council will send to the administration a series of questions, ranging from water-testing procedures to lifeguard interventions.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.