LIHUE — The administration told the Kauai County Council Wednesday that the reconstruction of Kapaia Swinging Bridge will be 10 times cheaper than a $2 million estimate two years ago.
County Engineer Larry Dill said the latest preliminary estimate to replace both towers is about $100,000.
“We had another $100,000 appropriated … for this fiscal year,” he said. “I believe that will cover the cost of completion of the replacement of the rest of the bridge.”
But a restoration process that has taken several years to take off has left area residents “weary and disheartened,” and with disbelief the dilapidated bridge will ever be functional again.
“For the last seven years, false information, false hope and chronic stalling by county leaders has irreparably damaged the effort to save the Kapaia Swinging Bridge,” Kapaia resident Laraine Moriguchi said. “It’s not my loss; it’s not Kapaia’s loss — it’s Kauai’s loss.”
The bridge was originally built by the county in 1948 for plantation workers to access the Catholic Church on the other side of the stream. The county still owns the bridge, but has no access to it — the surrounding land is privately owned.
The county has closed access to the bridge in 2006, after deeming it unsafe. In March 2012, heavy rains caused further damage to the bridge, destroying its midsection.
More than two years ago, the county spent about $89,000 on a design and feasibility study with consultant Kai Hawaii. When the price tag for the project came up at $4 million, including land acquisition, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said the administration wouldn’t be pursuing it.
Kapaia residents, however further, and the council voted to replenish a special fund for the bridge’s restoration, bringing it back to $230,000.
Without considering land for public access, the administration took a second look at the project and priced the bridge at $2.1 million. County Managing Director Gary Heu said in August 2011 it would cost $400,000 for the wood alone, if Douglas fir is used, and $800,000 if redwood is used.
In June 2011, Angie Westfall, architecture branch chief of the State Historic Preservation Division, said the design the administration had been considering, wider and with longer access ramps, was “basically a Disneyland version of the bridge.”
Some of the high cost of the bridge was associated with rebuilding it in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since then, council members have discussed whether they can — or want to — have a bridge without ADA compliance.
On Wednesday, Deputy County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask said that according to the state Disability and Communication Access Board, if the bridge is built as a route, it may not need ADA improvements, but it is intended as a destination, it may need it.
Before further plans go underway, the community has to decide its intention for the bridge, and the project has to be reviewed by the Kauai Historic Preservation Commission, he said.
“I apologize it has taken that long, but sometimes it’s the nature of the beast,” said Dill, explaining the county waited for a long time for responses from the State Historic Preservation Division, which ultimately instructed the county to consult with KHPC.
Moriguchi’s father bought the Kapaia property she lives on, right next to the bridge, in 1971.
“We’ve heard all of this time and time and time again,” Moriguchi said. “It’s just a simple historic foot bridge that has the potential of again allowing people a safe pedestrian path necessary for walking to and from work, church, shopping and medical appointments.”
The Kapaia Swinging Bridge restoration project, she said, is “a classic example of political shibai” — a word introduced by sugar plantation immigrants to describe a situation when someone is pretending or being insincere.
“Sadly, through the process of the Kapaia Swinging Bridge shibai project, tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars have been freely wasted,” Moriguchi said.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said everything is in line to make the project happen, including community support. If Carvalho wanted the bridge to be restored, and told Dill to get it done, it would get done, he said.
“I believe the administration doesn’t want to get this done, but has no courage to tell the community,” he said.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura disagreed with Rapozo. To her, the administration had the courage to tell the community they didn’t want to restore the bridge. But the council didn’t accept it, she said, and put more money toward the bridge’s restoration.
Some of the issues have been beyond the administration’s control, according to Yukimura.
She told Moriguchi that it appears there is now a process in place, and asked her for her continued support.
“I’m holding out for every possibility, because it is such an incredible vision you folks have held for so long,” Yukimura said.
Moriguchi said that the last time she attended a council meeting, she brought another word, “gambaru,” which is Japanese for “never give up.”
“That still stands,” she said.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro asked Dill to come up with a critical path by the end of September. He said he understands there may be variables, including new requests for money, but it would be “really nice” for the community to have something like that.