WAILUA HOMESTEADS — Judy Hayward was surprised to hear the Division of Forestry and Wildlife is building a bridge at the first crossing of Keahua Stream at the end of Kuamoo Road.
Walking across the ford is a longstanding tradition for her and her dog, Akamai. The two often watch the sunset on the ridge just beyond the stream crossing, and she was immediately worried a bridge would ruin the ambiance of the place.
“We don’t need a bridge there,” Hayward said. “It’d help out the tourists, not the locals, and you don’t have any business being back there if you don’t have a four-wheel drive. More people equals more responsibility for the state, too.”
Thursday was the first Hayward had heard of the $2.5 million project to construct a single-span, steel truss, 115-foot-long vehicle bridge with an adjacent pedestrian path about 20 feet downstream of the existing ford.
The plan is to paint the prefabricated, hot-dip galvanized structural steel bridge green, according to the environmental impact statement for the project.
“No, we need to use that money somewhere else,” Hayward said. “Use it for the roads — the potholes are so bad — or for something for the community.”
Construction of the bridge has already put a kink in her routine because the company selected for construction, Mocon Corporation, has begun working and excavation equipment is now working along the bank of the stream.
“It’s hard to use the river,” she said.
Hayward isn’t the only Kauai resident surprised about the bridge construction at Keahua Stream. Community members began asking questions when ground was broken on the project and they didn’t have all the details.
“The bottom line is there always needs to be community conversations around changes like this,” said Fern Rosenstiel, Wailua resident. “It is an important area where locals can still go, hunt and 4-by-4. We need to think about how much we want to increase access to this important, sacred and delicate environment.”
Kate Giesbrecht of Kapahi said she also thinks it’s imperative to involve the community in decisions such as these.
“Change is difficult and many people are resistant to change for many reasons,” Giesbrecht said. “When you make these kinds of changes it’s very important to involve the people that those changes affect.”
Officials are now planning a public meeting as a result of the community outcry that rose up once construction began.
“By law there doesn’t have to be a public meeting, but it’s usually a good idea,” said Sheri Mann, state forestry program manager for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “I like to do public meetings whenever I can, but it looks like one wasn’t done in this case.”
Mann was hired into her current position in 2011 and by the time she got to the project, it was far along in the process.
She said she was unaware there hadn’t been a public meeting regarding the bridge construction until she began getting phone calls after the site had been staged, as reported by The Garden Island on Sept. 10.
State procurement chapter 343 of the environmental assessment process was followed, according to Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward, “which included publication in the OEQC (Office of Environmental Quality Control) Environmental Notice with a public comment period, followed by planning and design, and the construction bid process.”
Ward did not respond to questions about why a public meeting hadn’t been held during that process.
“The project objective is to provide for public safety by constructing a bridge over the stream which can be crossed during high stream flow periods,” Ward said. “Staff are aware of past flooding concerns and saw the need to build a permanent structure rather than just maintaining the crossing.”
The need for a bridge over the stream instead of the current ford area was identified in the 1990s, Mann said, after a series of issues that arose at the crossing.
“We were getting reports that cars were washing away and people would get stuck on the other side when a flash flood came down,” Mann said. “Or people got hurt on the other side and the emergency services couldn’t get to them so they had to be helicoptered out.”
DOFAW filed a capitol improvement project (CIP) request and the project got the OK from the Legislature, but actually getting the money took more than a decade. During that time, the department did an environmental assessment.
That EA was published in October 2014 with a finding of no significant impact, and comments from the public are included in that assessment.
“There were many attempts to get the money over the years but we couldn’t get it,” Mann said. “My guess is enough incidents happened and it went up the flagpole. But, getting the CIP is a political process, not something that’s guaranteed at all.”
Since the environmental assessment was published, DOFAW has been developing a plan, paying for designs and blueprints, and finalizing permits.
“Eventually all that was compiled and completed and the next phase is to go out for RFP (Request for Proposal) to build it,” Mann said. “Now they’re actually ready to start.”
The plan is to go through the same process with the second crossing at the Keahua Stream, but Mann said DOFAW didn’t want to “bite off the second bridge at the same time.”
As far as the distribution of money, Mann said the money used for this bridge project has been specifically dedicated to DOFAW for their projects, and can’t be used for other things that would benefit the community.
“Why the monies aren’t being put in schools and to improve people’s livelihoods, that’s not what DOFAW does,” Mann said. “We get less than 1 percent of the budget from the state, and we do the best we can with it. A lot of times it’s improving hazardous areas.”
And the money can’t be used to build the Hanakapiai Bridge either, because that location is under the purview of State Parks.
“So that means they’d be in charge of getting the CIP funds, or some funds together to do that,” Mann said. “DOFAW isn’t the only state land management agency.”
A bridge over the Hanakapiai is a priority for State Parks, and funding has been allotted for the project, according to the state DLNR.
Currently, that bridge is “very much in the preliminary design and engineering stage,” according to Dan Dennison, spokesman for DLNR.
When it comes to the bridge over the Keahua Stream, Mann said DOFAW is striving to be transparent with the inherited project and she just needs to nail down a time and date for a public meeting on the project.
“I don’t know when, but it’s going to happen,” Mann said.