Pokai Bay Beach Park is a popular spot for beachgoers in Waianae, but some residents are upset about the state of its restrooms and water quality.
During a recent visit, broken toilets were covered with trash bags and graffiti was plastered on the walls and bathroom stalls. A homeless woman sleeps and bathes in the changing area. Recently there have been reports of syringes on the grounds of the 15-acre beach park.
Since 2015, Waianae residents have shared photos and comments about the facilities on a Westside Town Hall Facebook page created by Rep. Andria Tupola.
Tupola said as more people visit the beach park, city officials should turn to the community for help.
“I’ve told them this multiple times that at some point in time they’re not going to be able to maintain everything,” she said. “So having community members become owners and stewards over places that they can’t consistently keep up is a good idea.”
But Joseph Simpliciano, a retired infantry officer, said community members have already tried to take matters into their own hands.
“Me and some community members, we try to take care of the beaches,” Simpliciano said. “But it seems like every time we ask for help we never get any help from our representatives and senators.”
It’s an ongoing issue, he said.
“I used to go to that beach when I was a kid and that beach was never like that,” Simpliciano said. “Nowadays I do not even take my kids to that beach.”
But the state of the restrooms isn’t the only thing about Pokai Bay Beach Park that worries residents.
Local beachgoers and community members have reported health and environmental hazards at the beach for more than a decade.
A longtime resident of Waianae, Sara Perry said she remembers a time when an ear infection was the worst thing that could happen after swimming at Pokai Bay. Now residents say they have seen a rise in staph infections and fear it is from the beach.
Water stagnation near the beach’s breakwater may part of the problem.
“The beach itself, it’s not really safe anymore,” Perry said.
Myron Honda, environmental health specialist with the state Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch, said water quality is tested monthly and bacteria levels at Pokai Bay are not high.
He said people carry staph on the skin or in the nose but when a large number of people swim in areas where water doesn’t circulate well, such as along Pokai Bay’s breakwater, the concentration of staph is higher.
“I understand that they want to swim over there because it’s nice and calm, but that would be one of the problems,” Honda said.
In a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the overall status of Pokai Bay was designated as “impaired.”
The agency said the designation was issued for ammonia, algal growth and nutrients in the water.
While most species of algae are harmless, certain types can be harmful to humans and pets. Chlorophyll is “a measure of the amount of algae growing in a waterbody,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
It can cause aesthetic problems such as green scum and bad odors, but high concentrations of some algae can also produce harmful toxins.
Rep. Cedric Gates introduced a resolution last year that urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the University of Hawaii, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Health to find a way to generate better water circulation in Pokai Bay.
The DLNR and the U.S. Army are working on creating a recommendation to submit to the Legislature for further action, he said.
“Pokai Bay is one of the most famous beach parks in our community and has so much cultural significance as well,” Gates said. “I think it’s important as well that the city does its job and maintain that to the highest level possible.”
The community welcomed the voyaging canoe Hokulea to the beach with an arrival ceremony in December.
Gates said the city needs to address Pokai Bay issues as urgently as it would those in more affluent areas, such as Ala Moana Beach Park.
“It’s a mess. It’s not fair that we don’t get the funding and attention that we would if we were Hawaii Kai or Kahala,” Perry said. “We’re just the red-headed stepchild. We’re the last ones to get anything at the end of the road and it’s very unfortunate.”
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, whose district includes Pokai Bay, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Nearly 300 named parks on more than 5,000 acres of land are owned by the city and cared for by the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation.
Its operating budget for this fiscal year is $75.9 million.
The department has a staff of about 750 permanent employees and more than 1,000 others who are hired for limited time periods.
Restrooms are scheduled to be cleaned at least once a day, the department’s public information officer, Nathan Serota, said in an email to Civil Beat.
“We conduct maintenance and cleaning on a scheduled basis, so if damage is done to the bathrooms following that time then we rely on public notification to immediately address a mess in the bathrooms,” Serota said. “Instances of more significant damage to the facilities likely require more specialized work to fix the amenity.”
Serota said that maintenance staff are currently determining how the damages at Pokai Bay Beach Park can be addressed.
“We encourage the public to help us keep a watchful eye on these public facilities,” he said.
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