Getting to the root of the problem

LIHUE — Planting koa trees along the sidewalk of the Ka Hale Makai 0 Kauai building was an oversight, said Lyle Tabata, acting county engineer.

“We acknowledge that using the native koa, which has an aggressive root system, was a mistake, and we have not been using them since,” he said.

The Ka Hale Makai 0 Kauai building, which houses the County of Kauai Civil Defense Agency, Kauai Police Department and the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney was built in 2002.

The koa trees were planted around the building because it’s required to use native Hawaiian plants for landscaping.

So, under the authority of Dough Haigh, chief of the building department, who was the project manager of the Ka Hale Makai 0 Kauai building, the Department of Public Works planted the koa trees around the building. A consultant was also hired to advise on the project.

Root barriers were not used when the trees were planted, Tabata said.

During the Kauai County Council committee meeting Wednesday, Tabata addressed maintenance and safety concerns around the Ka Hale Makai 0 Kauai building raised by Councilman Ross Kagawa, chair of the public works and parks and recreation committee.

In some areas, tree roots are causing the sidewalks to be lifted 3 to 4 inches, Kagawa said.

“The pavement is in bad shape, and it’s going to get worse as the trees get larger,” he said.

To address those concerns, the county plans to hire a contractor to cut off the roots that are causing problems and installing root barriers, Tabata said.

Because there are several bids out for the work, Tabata did not want to disclose the price tag of the project.

Kagawa asked if there is potential for what happened with the roads around the Ka Hale Makai 0 Kauai building to occur on Hardy Street.

Because the work on Hardy Street was done with those concerns in mind, the landscaper made efforts to ensure Hardy Street will remain intact.

“With the tree selection, we looked at features like size and available space,” he said.

The landscaper also installed water bubblers in the ground, which encourages the roots to grow down instead of parallel to the street, he said.

Finding the right native Hawaiian trees for Hardy Street was difficult, Haigh said.

He said some of the trees planted along Hardy Street are small leaf mahogany, tulip wood and royal poinciana.

He took responsibility for the decision to use koa trees at Ka Hale Makai 0 Kauai building and said the county has learned from those mistakes.

But Mel Rapozo, council chair, said he was “less forgiving” than the administration.

“There are exemptions to that law, if the native trees would cause issues,” he said.

A contractor should have known the koa tree would cause problems, Rapozo added.

“We hire a lot of people and pay a lot of money to make sure things like this don’t happen,” he said. “Whoever told us to plant this tree, if there is an opportunity to go after them and get a portion of our money back, we should pursue it.”

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