WAIMANALO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – Under orders from the city and the threat of tens of thousands of dollars in fines, a volunteer group is tearing out the remnants of an illegal oceanfront park in Waimanalo.
The site sits along the Kaupo Beach shoreline in Waimanalo on the stretch of undeveloped land between beachfront homes and the Oceanic Institute, offering beautiful views of Rabbit Island on one side and Kailua's Mokulua Islands on the other.
Waimanalo resident and project coordinator Andy Jamila said the first efforts to improve the area began four years ago when volunteers cleaned trash and overgrowth from the area where some homeless people had been living.
"Then the kupuna asked if we could put a couple chairs and tables, so they could come up here and have a lunch, and we didn't see a problem. Get it donated, get it done," Jamila said.
Jamila said he and other volunteers went to work, helped by work crews of prisoners from Oahu Community Correctional Center.
They installed about ten concrete tables, each with four concrete stools and planted grass here, creating what they called "Kupuna Terrace," Jamila said.
"People were calling me, donating grass, donating concrete, we made a wheelchair access ramp for the kupunas," Jamila said.
The city said all that work was done without a permit on Hawaiian Homes land managed by the city parks department.
"It started as a community service project, but it got out of hand," said Jiro Sumada, deputy director of the city's Department of Planning and Permitting.
"There were different efforts to try to save the work that was done," Sumada said.
One option was for the community group to take over the improvements and another was for the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands to assume management of the area, Sumada said.
"Once we figured out that we exhausted every option and the only remaining option was for those structures to be removed and we issued the notice of order," Sumada said.
Last June, the city ordered the volunteers to remove everything because it was an illegal park, built on too steep a slope without insurance coverage.
The state and city said the site was also dangerously close to Kalanianaole Highway, with its 45 mile-per-hour speed limit, Sumada said. And there are only a couple of parking spots on the shoulder, which the volunteers expanded with crushed coral fill, he said.
"To me, it didn't seem like it was dangerous or it was detrimental to anyone who was going to go there. That I don't know. But I didn't see anything wrong," said lifelong Waimanalo resident Annette Wong, who made lunches for some of the volunteer work crews.
The volunteers have been clearing the site of their improvements for the last few months, and have stopped watering the grass planted there, so the hillside is turning brown.
The city said as of Friday, the volunteers could face $35,700 in fines, an amount that could be reduced if the volunteer group removes the remaining coral fill and restores the area to its former condition.
The volunteers have also removed the concrete furniture, giving it to kupuna who supported the project, like Wong who lives five minutes away.
"It's a shame they had to take it away, because the view is gorgeous and the tourists can stop by," she said.
"It became a little larger than what we had imagined," said Jamila. "It was a learning process. And we want to thank the city for helping us through it."