Committee approves Lydgate campgrounds

NAWILIWILI — After more than six years, a bill that allows Lydgate Park to offer camping has finally cleared the County Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee. The final decision now rests with the full council, which will entertain the bill in two weeks.

The committee unanimously approved Bill 2419, after adding an amendment introduced by Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura.

“The amendment does several things; it addresses concerns raised on previous meetings,” said Nakamura, explaining that the amendment designates camping area boundaries, clarifies what a person with disability means — straight out of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes — and makes the ordinance effective 60 days after final approval, allowing the county government to develop rules.

Public testimony, however, leaned against the committee’s action.

“This is a shame what we are delivering to the people, not only of the island but to the tourists,” Kapa‘a resident Ken Taylor said. “We call this the Garden Island? And I wonder, where is the garden? We have some nice natural situations, but the man-made situation of this island is sad, sad, sad.”

Taylor said Lydgate Park in nowhere near a “world-class” facility — the wish of some council members — and there is a lot that needs to be done to achieve such status.

“Santa Barbara, California, where I come from, if the parks looked like this park, the Parks Director would be gone,” he said. “We can’t put our heads in the sand and keep saying, ‘this is the Garden Island, it’s wonderful.’ It’s not wonderful.”

Taylor’s heavy artillery continued as he asked council members to compare the nicely kept gardens from the island’s major hotels and resorts with any parks on Kaua‘i. “It’s sinful.”

He also said it’s time for the county to stop adding more workload to county workers without giving them proper training.

Taylor’s concerns were also shared in some way or another with Lihu‘e resident Joe Rosa and Kapa‘a resident and self-described “nitpicker” Glenn Mickens. But the comments from the former Santa Barbara resident didn’t sit well with Councilman Dickie Chang.

“It disappoints me at times when I hear — and a lot of people hear — ‘back where I come from,’ or ‘where I’m from,’” Chang said, adding that people could not compare other communities with Kaua‘i.

He said camping is a tradition on Kaua‘i that has passed from generation to generation.

“If you were born and raised in Hawai‘i, everybody in Hawai‘i camped,” Chang said. “Everybody was what we referred to during the summer as papa‘a, your hair was ehu.”

And whether or not Lydgate Park campgrounds will be a world-class facility, he said, locals will be very grateful for it.

“I don’t think people are really going to look at it with a critical eye,” Chang said. “They have a shower, they have their restroom facilities, they have safety, they have the ocean, they have their family and friends, they have their kids. Local people are not hard to please.”

Other concerns

Some of the other concerns raised by Mickens and Rosa included safety issues, understaffing and a sufficient number of bathrooms.

“The caretakers at Lydgate Park and their union representative have pointed out one of the most glaring of these problems and, if anyone should be listened to, it is one of those workers,” said Mickens, adding that he didn’t believe any council member would “enjoy cleaning up the mess in the bathrooms that these employees do day in, day out.”

He said that county employees have stated that two additional caretakers would be needed to maintain the facility and its 31 campsites.

However, the administration has stated that current staffing is adequate. The county plans to open up only a few campsites for now and the rest of the campground incrementally to allow the administration to see what else needs to be done.

Councilman Tim Bynum — one of the most vocal advocates for the campground’s opening — said that years ago there was only one full-time caretaker in the area. The caretaker would come in at 5:30 a.m., change toilet tissue in the bathrooms and take off around 7:30 a.m.

The county, Bynum said, has addressed the problem and has also hired three additional caretakers, with the campground’s opening in mind. But since then, Lydgate Park has expanded, including the addition of sports fields, he said.

On Thursday afternoon, in the men’s restroom, the handicap stall had only one roll of toilet paper, despite having two holders. The regular stall, also equipped with two holders, had no toilet paper and the toilet tank was missing its cover.

In the handicap shower stall, the stainless-steel folding seat was sagging. The other shower stalls were dry, but ponding water has been a recurring issue in the men’s and women’s bathroom. On a busy day, the still water trapped in the shower stalls can go as high as two inches.

Outside of the bathrooms, a blue plastic can for recyclables had ordinary trash inside, even though the regular trash can was right by its side.

Some of the outdoor park benches were warped and at least one had a cracked footing and a chipped table top.

Residents don’t have to pay for camping on Kaua‘i. But at Lydgate Park — per the current version of the bill — there would be a $5 fee per day per campsite and a $75 fee to rent the group campsite and pavilion. Non-residents will pay a $25 fee per day per campsite and a $150 fee to rent the group campsite and pavilion.

The full council on Sept. 7 will be picking up Bill 2149. Traditionally, committees work up bills before passing them to full council. But Councilmen Mel Rapozo and KipuKai Kuali‘i — who were absent on Wednesday because of other official council business — have had some concerns in previous meetings about the bill.

Rapozo has expressed concerns about safety and Kuali‘i has raised concern regarding residents who have traditionally spent the night fishing in the area and now may have to secure a camping permit to go fishing or risk getting a ticket.

The bill was first introduced in 2005. On June 29, when it was amended to include camping fees, the committee picked up the bill for the first time since 2009. Since then, the bill has been repeatedly deferred.

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