EXCLUSIVE: Piles of trash mar Keehi island; state vows to clean it up again
KEEHI LAGOON, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just a year and a half after the state spent $10,000 cleaning trash and debris from an island in Keehi Lagoon, it's full of garbage again, with several homeless people living there.
Slipper Island just off Keehi Boat Harbor is a long, skinny berm that protects boats in the harbor from storm surge or Kona storms.
It's also home to three water skiing clubs whose members ski in a long stretch of Keehi Lagoon that was once used as runways by Pan Am's Clipper sea planes in the 1940s.
But a close-up view of the island reveals piles of trash. Parts of it look just like a garbage dump.
The shoreline is littered with abandoned boats in some areas and lots of other junk everywhere else.
"It's pretty common to see a lot of garbage and people living on the berm here and leaving their stuff behind," said Brad Corbin, a member of Oahu Water Ski Club.
Members of the ski clubs said there are as many as a half dozen homeless people living on Slipper Island. Their extensive encampments are visible as well as some of their kayaks and other boats on the shore.
"If they just kind of monitored the activity and keep people from living out here, just monitoring it. You never see anybody out here noticing it. It's just kind of left alone," Corbin said
Corbin says just this morning, club members found a homeless couple hanging out at one water ski clubhouse when they arrived.
But the trash, some of it brought by homeless campers, with other stuff just dumped on the island or that has washed ashore, is the pervasive problem. The clubs hold community cleanup days but said the trash has gotten so bad it's too big for volunteers to tackle.
Ben Guieb has been a member of Oahu Water Ski Club for nearly 40 years and he said the state isn't cracking down on the homeless or the rubbish they leave behind.
"I think there are more problems on land than out here, so I think over here is the last priority as far as that goes. We're left out in the cold," Guieb said.
Ed Underwood, state boating administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources said, "Well, the trash is back. I mean, we clean it up and as soon we leave, it usually ends up back there again."
Underwood said the state spent $10,000 hiring a contractor who completely cleaned up the island in April of last year, and just a year and a half later it's a mess again.
He admitted he was "surprised at the amount of debris that's back out there already" after he saw photos of the trash that Hawaii News Now sent him Thursday. Underwood planned to hire a contractor once again to do a full cleanup.
Underwood also wants to restore a night shift for enforcement officers, which ended with budget cuts several years ago.
"We're looking at doing that again and we're really hopeful that the legislature is going to support some new positions for them and funding. And not only down at Sand Island, but around the state," Underwood said.
He said last year the state impounded 97 boats, most of them from Keehi Boat Harbor. Those vessels valued at less than $5,000 were destroyed and boats worth more than that were sold at auction, Underwood said.
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