Morgan’s Ponds deemed clean; some disagree

LIHU‘E — Morgan’s Ponds, beloved by visitors and locals alike, is still struggling with the aftermath of nature’s inevitable course and man’s recourses, according to some residents.

“It’s heart-breaking to see Morgan’s Ponds in such a deplorable condition,” Kapa‘a resident Glenn Mickens said at a Kaua‘i County Council meeting Wednesday.

County officials presented to the council a preliminary report on the manmade ponds at Lydgate Beach Park, noting the effects of last year’s restoration work — reduced currents and increased turbidity — had lessened significantly by February.

And then there were the heavy rains in early March, flushing organic matter down the nearby Wailua River. Large branches and fine mulch went into the ocean and found their way into the ponds, increasing turbidity and pollution levels all over again.

The administration recently hired a contractor who used an excavator to scoop debris out of the ponds. With the help of  volunteer group Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park, most of the debris pushed to the shoreline was removed.

Within the ponds, however, it’s another story. The state Department of Health says the water is clean — and has consistent sampling to prove it — but some residents who frequent the ponds on a regular basis say otherwise.

“I can’t believe the place is open to the public,” said Wailua resident Lucia Eichenberger, a frequent swimmer at the ponds. “That place should be closed until it’s clean.”

The state Department of Health tests the water in the ponds about three times a week. Results from the latest set of samples, presented on Wednesday by DOH Environmental Health Specialist Gary Ueunten to the council, show the water is clean and well bellow the state threshold to be considered polluted.

Last year, after spending months gathering necessary permits, the administration began a restoration project.

Workers dredged the main pond’s bottom, because sand had been accumulating there over the years, causing its depth to go from about 12 feet to roughly 3 feet. The dredging work increased the pond’s depth to 6 to 9 feet. What the county didn’t expect was that a layer of silt at the bottom of the pond would be uncovered, increasing turbidity.

The restoration work also involved picking up rocks that had fallen off the surrounding rock wall into the pond and putting them back onto the wall.

Eichenberger said the restored rock wall is so compacted that it allows very little water from the surrounding ocean to get into the pond.

Former council hopeful and Kapa‘a resident Ken Taylor suggested that sand be put back on top of the silt at the bottom of the pond.

Eichenberger said more dredging should be done to remove the organic matter, and a membrane be placed on the bottom to prevent silt from mixing with the water again. Only then should sand be replenished, he said.

Oceanit, the consultant that helped with last year’s restoration and with the letter draft report presented to the council, recommends the bottom not to be disturbed.

Ueunten said “it’s prudent” to follow Oceanit’s recommendation.

County Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said there are currents in the pond when the wind picks up and also during high tide and when the surf is big.

Councilman Dickie Chang said the currents are only on top of the water; on the bottom the water is stagnant. Unless pipes are installed within the 12-foot wide rock wall, he said, the pond will never clean itself.

But there is also the problem with state and federal permits. Now that the restoration work is done, the county is not allowed to go back inside the pond, unless the administration secures new permits, according to Rapozo. Any work done on the ponds has to be from the shore.

Later this month, Oceanit is supposed to release a draft report on the ponds’ condition. Although not a final report, it will be more encompassing than the letter draft report the administration presented Wednesday.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro sent a set of questions for the consultant, expecting answers in a few weeks.

The questions included whether refitting the rock wall made it more difficult for the water to circulate in an out of the ponds, whether short-term solutions include opening up small channels, whether sand-replenishing would help and whether the county should buy cleaning equipment or circulation pumps.

“When we tangle with Mother Nature it’s not an easy solution to find,” Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura said.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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