A lengthy list of needed repairs has dogged Hanauma Bay for years. Now, work is finally underway to address one major problem: rusty, sharp-edged guardrails at the park’s highest lookout.

On July 1, the city began pre-fabricating replacement railings, addressing a long-standing problem. The work should be completed by the end of the month, city officials say.

But for some, the fixes haven’t come soon enough. They say that Hanauma Bay, one of Hawaii’s busiest tourist attractions, isn’t getting the timely repairs it deserves.

Hanauma Bay hosts about one million visitors each year or around 3,000 per day. Besides Waikiki Beach, the bay is one of the most-visited beaches in the state.

In addition to the rusted rails, the park suffers from a faulty projector, holes in the information booth’s roof and the broken touch-screen computers in the visitor center.

Volunteers at the bay say the repairs have been put on hold for years.

When asked about the concern about repairs taking too long, the city told Civil Beat that they’re “doing everything they can to move the repairs as quickly as possible.”

Around a year ago, then-Mayor Kirk Caldwell admitted there was a problem.

“We believe we need to do a better job,” Caldwell said in an August 2010 press conference at the bay. “That’s what we’ve done now. When we find things that need to be repaired, it will be repaired.”

Bay Collects Lots of Fees, But Spending Them is Difficult

Gary Cabato, the city’s new Parks and Recreation director told Civil Beat that part of the problem is bureaucratic.

Since 1996, the Bay has a special fund that collects entrance, parking and concession fees. Its top funding priority is “for the operation, maintenance and improvement of the preserve.”

In fiscal year 2010, the city received $5.982 million in admission, parking and concession fees.

This fund may only be used at the Bay, but some complain that it takes too long to release the funds for repairs.

Even Cabato says he feels frustrated. He told Civil Beat that there needs to be a better system in place.

“Every year I complain about it,” he said. “But if those are the cards I’m dealt, then that’s what I have to work with.”

The process of getting the funding to go towards things like repairs, has to go through the same process as any other city project that grabs money from the general fund, the city said.

“Anything over $5,000 and lasts five years or more would fall under CIP funding,” he said. “That’s a much longer process we have to go through.”

Volunteers hope to streamline this process and create one specifically for the bay.

Indeed, slow repairs are a longstanding problem. A 2007 city audit of the Hanauma Bay Fund noted that the Department of Parks and Recreation needed to “improve its planning efforts in identifying current and projected needs of the preserve.”

The audit also found that “the Department of Parks and Recreation and Budget and Fiscal Services need to better coordinate their planning efforts to ensure the most effective use of preserve funds to support the preserve’s requirements.”

Rusted Rails a Perennial Problem

For years, Friends of Hanauma Bay and other volunteers have asked the city to fix rusted and sharp-edged guardrails at the upper lookout.

When he took over the Parks and Recreation Department in December, Cabato said he visited the Bay to check on the railings.

“They put duct tape around the pipes and that’s not a proper way to fix rust or holes,” he said. “I stuck my finger through tape and my finger went right through it. That scared me, so I wanted to get this fixed right away.”

The original plans to fix them put the estimated cost at $250,000, an amount that was in the 2012 Capital Improvement Budget.

The city recently told Civil Beat they’ve decided to do a less expensive fix.

“We determined that it was less expensive to have city welders do the work than to hire a private contractor,” Cabato said. “The cost for the rails would be around $80,000. We expect the railings to be available by July 1 and then we will begin to pre-fabricate the rails to fit.”

The city plans to complete the pre-fabrication and installation by the end of July.

“We would prefer doing the work on Tuesdays, when the bay is closed, so we do not impact on our visitor operations,” Cabato said.

The money saved ($170,000) from completing this project will go right back into the Hanauma Bay fund, according to Cabato.

Taking Care of the Backlog

Other back-logged repairs like the faulty touch-screen computers in the visitor center seem to be done, except one, which the city said, “is under warranty and will be repaired by the vendor soon.”

A $50,000 permanent replacement for the broken roof of the information booth on the beach remains on hold.

“We determined that the earlier repair is sufficient for now,” Cabato said. “There are no leaks and the repair materials are blending in. The complete roof repair is one of the CIP projects, besides the rock mitigation that will be put in our CIP.”

A new projector that shows the required educational video was purchased for $5,000 and installed last year. A back-up projector is also being budgeted, according to Cabato.

Cabato told Civil Beat fees “won’t be raised anytime soon to help with repair costs.”

Over the years, CIP funds expended at the Bay were for new lifeguard towers ($600,000) in 2003, rock fall mitigation ($230,000) in 2010 and the master plan update ($50,000) also in 2010.

Transparency of the Bay fund

Some like Friends of Hanauma Bay President John Johnson feels the solution to the repairs problem at the bay is an onsite financial manager.

“The process for getting repairs approved is pretty cumbersome,” Johnson told Civil Beat. “There’s also no fiscal person on-site to manage the Hanauma Bay fund. It takes quite awhile for things to happen. It took months upon months to repair the projector. It took quite awhile for the computer kiosks to be repaired. When nobody’s using the fund, it gives a black eye to the bay.”

“We’re concerned with the transparency of the Bay fund,” Johnson said. “If we know how much money is there and what they project their expenses are, we’d be better able to understand what’s going on.”

Johnson, who has been volunteering at the bay for seven years, said the Friends of Hanauma Bay board is meeting with Cabato soon to not only talk about repair issues, but about the selection of a new manager as well.

The city says there are no plans to hire an onsite manager to manage the bay’s funds.

Where are the funds going?

A 2010 city budget report on page 162 shows that the biggest expense at the Bay falls under the category of culture recreation under the Parks and Recreation division at $2.41 million.

The next biggest expense is for emergency services at $755,000. Just under emergency services is retirement benefits at $667,000.

All in all, the city finished up with a positive balance in 2010 with a total of $2.15 million.

Year Entree Fee Revenues
2005 $3,657,777
2006 $3,419,860
2007 $3,340,076
2008 $3,285,841
2009 $3,002,480
2010 $4,168,000*

*Includes Non-resident entry-fee increase ($5 to $7.50)
Source: Honolulu Parks & Recreation Dept.

Hanauma Bay Visitor Totals

Year Number of visitors
2005 897,737
2006 846,612
2007 835,020
2008 780,941
2009 757,507
2010 757,882

Source: Honolulu Parks & Recreation Dept.