KILAUEA — A mostly residential North Shore town is at a loss on how to handle a lack of public restrooms, and the problem is escalating as more visitors are attracted to a growing commerce in the area.
Some Kilauea businesses are saying customers don’t want to walk or drive to Kilauea Park to use the town’s only public restrooms, and with hundreds of daily customers, a few have become upset over the lack of a neat and near place to relieve themselves.
“It has gotten to be definitely unpleasant,” said Patricia Ewing, owner of Kong Lung Historic Market Center and Kong Lung Trading store.
The historic market center offered public restrooms until March, but a growing use and abuse led to constant pumping of their septic system, and Ewing ultimately had the restroom shut down.
She bought the historic market center in 1995, after owning Kong Lung Trading for a few years. Since then, she put four new septic systems in the property — one for the church and deli, one for the Lighthouse Bistro restaurant, one for Kilauea Bakery, and the last one servicing the employees’ restroom and a small restroom for customers.
The system servicing both the employee and customer restrooms has capacity for 1,500 gallons, with two seepage pits with 1,000-gallon capacity each, according to Ewing. But this system, designed to handle employees and customers of the market center, was also being used by non-customers.
Ewing said at least two shopping centers in the vicinity were telling their customers to use Kong Lung’s restrooms.
Adding to the problem, homeless people would wash themselves in the customers’ bathroom — using the tiny sink and wetting everything around — and lately, tour buses would pull in the parking lot to unload passengers solely so they could use the restroom, she said.
After many months having to pump the customers’ restroom every seven to 10 days, Ewing decided in late March to close it indefinitely.
At Kilauea Bakery, they had a few customers frustrated with the bathroom situation.
“I had to go over and calm down a couple people,” Kilauea Bakery owner Thomas Pickett said.
Businesses were sending their customers to the public restrooms at the nearby Kilauea Park, which is a two-minute walk from the market center. But some insisted in using the restrooms at the Lighthouse Bistro, where they would get in the way of service and cause problems — until the restaurant’s owner decided to charge a fee for non-customers.
It now costs $10 for the general public and bakery patrons to use the Bistro’s restroom. A receipt from one of the historic market center’s stores allows for a discounted rate of $8. Restaurant patrons can use the restroom for free. Ewing said the Bistro’s owner, Matt Ernsdorff, decided on the amount of the fee based on what customers would spend on a drink.
Staff at the Lighthouse Bistro said Ernsdorff was on vacation off-island, and unavailable for comment. But a staff member who asked to remain anonymous said that by law, the restaurant has to provide a restroom to its customers because it serves liquor. Its obligation, however, is only to its customers, and there were too many people coming in just to use the restroom, she said.
“I try to be as polite as I possibly can,” said the staff member, explaining she would direct people to the restrooms at the county Kilauea Park.
Last week, Ewing placed two new Porta Potties on the market place. She said it apparently relieved a lot of problems for the Bistro.
Staff at the Bistro said they still charge a restroom fee for non-customers, and now send them to the Porta Potties, but there are still those insisting on using the restaurant’s restrooms.
“I guess the word Porta Potty scares people, even though they’re brand new,” she said.
Almost everyone else in Kilauea sends customers to the restrooms at Kilauea Park, including the Kilauea Fish Market (across the street from Kong Lung) and Healthy Hut (a few blocks away).
All these food businesses, including the Kilauea Bakery, have sit-down areas outside but no customer restrooms.
The Kilauea Lighthouse, at the end of Kilauea Road, has a bathroom inside the facility, accessible after paying a $5 admission fee. There too, the staff said the nearest public restroom is at Kilauea Park.
County Parks and Recreation officials said in an email to The Garden Island that the most common problems at county bathrooms are the lack of respect for public facilities and vandalism.
“Restrooms and portable toilets are literally ‘trashed,’ and toilet paper and napkin supplies are stolen regularly following scheduled re-stocking of the products,” county officials said.
The recent closure of public bathrooms in Kilauea by private entities has placed more pressure on the one restroom facility at Kilauea Park, according to the county.
“Park maintenance crews are struggling to keep up with the extra use of this restroom, and certainly would prefer if other restrooms were available to the public,” county officials said.
As soon as the Porta Potties were placed at Kong Lung, other area businesses resumed sending their customers there, according to Ewing.
Pickett said his wife was picking up food in a deli a few blocks from Kong Lung a week ago, when she overheard the cashier telling a person to use the Porta Potties at Kong Lung.
The Porta Potties, he said, are for Kong Lung Historic Market Center’s customers only, and a key has to be picked up from one of the tenants.
Ewing said most of the problem would be solved if the nearby Kilauea Neighborhood Center would have its bathrooms open to the public.
The county said “the restrooms at the neighborhood center may be made available.” There is also the nearby Kilauea Gym, but the gym’s restrooms should only be accessed when the gym is being used, according to the county.
Ewing said that in the mid-1990s, the Kauai Planning Commission wouldn’t approve her request to build additional restrooms without taking away Kong Lung’s grandfathering status regarding compliance with current laws. If she built new restrooms, she would have to come up with more than 100 parking stalls for the historic market center, and there is just no space for that, she said.
She also considered buying an undeveloped residential corner lot across the street — all other corner lots are zoned commercial — to build a parking lot and a restroom, but she was told it wouldn’t be approved.
Meanwhile, county officials said they have not been able to increase the number of public restrooms islandwide to meet the demand of the recent growth of the island population, particularly in the last 10 years.
“The addition of new public restroom facilities islandwide will be a high priority for future capital improvement projects and public funding,” county officials said.
Hold it, you’re on the North Shore
The Garden Island
NORTH SHORE — As summer builds steam, those visiting Kauai’s North Shore should drink plenty water to avoid dehydration.
But they also should know that as they drive past Anahola, they are entering into an area that has limited clean, public restrooms.
Visitors Randy and Jo Halverson of Long Beach, Calif., recently toured Kauai, including stops along the North Shore.
When asked for their opinion on the public bathrooms, they said they weren’t the cleanest in the world, but most were OK.
“One near the beach in Hanalei was pretty bad, but the one at the shopping center in town was fine,” Randy Halverson said.
He added that with so many visitors, public restrooms certainly aren’t going to be spotless.
“I’ve seen worse,” he said.
County officials said maintenance for the North Shore county parks is provided seven days a week, including holidays — by six full-time park caretakers.
From Anahola to Haena, those caretakers take care of Kilauea Park, three parks in Anahola, Anini Park and campground, Black Pot Beach Park, Hanalei Pavilion Park, Waioli Town Park, Waioli Beach Park and Haena Beach park and campground, according to the county Parks and Recreation Department.
“There have been many recent efforts and steps to increase maintenance staffing islandwide, as well as the filling of all vacant positions as quickly as possible,” Parks officials told The Garden Island in an email. “Due to tight budget and financial conditions, we continue to re-evaluate the most efficient use of current manpower islandwide.”
As the island grows, so does demand for public restrooms.
The soon-to-be-completed Kauai Parks Master Plan will analyze the demand on county park facilities and provide recommendations for the county’s funding of capital improvement projects to meet this growing demand on all county park facilities, according to county officials.
“We will also have the master planning process for Hanalei/Black Pot Beach Park underway soon, and the need for additional restrooms for the expanded park area will be considered,” county officials said.
Charles Wong works for the company that rents out the Porta Potties to the county. He said he cleans and restocks the Porta Potties with toilet paper three times a week, but vandalism and theft are constant.
“They trash them,” he said of vandals. “I don’t understand because it’s for their benefit.”
The county rents another eight Porta Potties for the North Shore, according to county officials. There are two at Waioli Town Park, four at Black Pot Beach Park in Hanalei and two at Haena Beach Park.
Altogether, the 10 Porta Potties on the North Shore cost the county $52,500 per year. Whenever there are large events on the North Shore, the county may bring extra Porta Potties at additional cost, according to county officials.