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County gives thumbs-up to Mauna Kea park management

Updated: 
April 5, 2014 - 12:05am

Hawaii County will be able to improve and maintain its portion of the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area without a big budget increase or neglecting other county parks, officials assured the County Council Finance Committee on Friday.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Clayton Honma, in his budget presentation to the committee, said he’s asking for a $1.3 million increase to his $25.5 million budget, but $1.1 million is to account for wage hikes negotiated for union workers.

He’s also asking for one and a half full-time equivalent positions to replace the two full-time state workers at Mauna Kea. Five other positions will be added to manage two other new county parks, Ooma and the Ka‘u gym.

The county is taking over the 20.5 acre developed park area of Mauna Kea, including five cabins and restroom facilities, under a management agreement approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources late last month. The details are still being worked out between the county and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Most County Council members were pleased to see the county’s involvement at Mauna Kea.

“We thought the county would do a way better job than the state was able to do,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha. “It’s a place we can stop and rest and relax and see the beauty of our island right in the middle.”

But Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille worried that the attention the long-neglected Mauna Kea State Recreation Area will require could pull workers and efforts away from other county parks. She questioned whether the county can do the work for the amount budgeted without drawing from other areas.

“Why don’t we just get mad at the state and get them to do it,” Wille asked.

The park, at 6,500 feet elevation, is the only rest stop along Saddle Road, which has seen an increase in traffic as improvements to the cross-island route progress. Seeing the park as underused and lacking proper care, Mayor Billy Kenoi sought for several years to put the county in control. The County Council had approved a resolution to the state Legislature, urging the transfer of responsibility.

Honma said the Parks Department can provide the one and a half full-time positions, nighttime security, water delivery and a dump truck for $301,000. Improvements to the cabins are expected to be accomplished with existing staff, he said.

“Maybe we don’t have all the staff in the world, but we should be able to have someone who can go up there,” Honma said.

The county will be able to keep the $80 daily rental for the cabins.

The restroom currently has no sink, but hand sanitizer is available for users. The county plans to install sinks and truck water to the park. The existing public restroom uses about 50,000 gallons of nonpotable water a month, drawing from a stream on the property to flush the toilet.

“The county is prepared to make necessary investments to infrastructure and maintenance at no expense to the state,” according to the agreement approved by the Land Board. Under the agreement, DLNR will install a booster pump to increase water flow from on-site storage tanks.

Honma said the agreement should be complete in the next couple of months.

“This will improve our ability to work and get better services for communities on both sides of the island,” Honma said. “It’s good for everyone.”