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State to remove lead-contaminated soil at Kolekole Beach Park, seeks public input

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The state Department of Health wants to know what the public thinks about its work to remove lead-contaminated soil at Kolekole Beach Park on the Big Island.

Hawaiʻi County closed the park in 2017 after lead was found around the nearby Kolekole Stream Bridge at concentrations that could pose a health risk to keiki.

Health officials say the contamination likely came from lead-based paint used on that bridge.

For the past year, the most hazardous soil has been fenced off, and other interim steps have been taken to reduce exposure.

Now the state is moving ahead with longer-term remediation.

"The selected choice involves digging up and removing all the contamination and hauling it off to a permitted permanent storage facility like a landfill that can take that contaminated material," said Tom Gilmore, who oversees the cleanup for DOH.

"This choice removes all the contamination so going forward there would be no controls, no continued monitoring or anything else for the park and turns it back to the public in the best state available," he said.

Gilmore says the affected area is beneath the bridge and extends about 300 feet mauka of the Kolekole Beach Park.

Above the soil, repairs continue on Kolekole Stream Bridge after state inspectors discovered structural deterioration in September — causing long traffic delays on the only road in and out of Hilo along the Hamakua Coast.

Gov. David Ige has released $12.5 million to finance the design and construction for emergency repairs. The permanent repair project is estimated at $36 million with a start date of fall 2026, the Department of Transportation said.

"While this CIP (capital improvement project funding) appropriation of $12,500,000 alone is not enough to complete the entirety of the required maintenance and repairs for the Kolekole Bridge, I believe it is a foundational step to move forward at this time,” said state Senator Lorraine R. Inouye.

Three other bridges along the Hamakua Coast — Wailuku, Nanua and Hakalau — have also been flagged for repairs. Projects for those three bridges have an estimated combined cost of $120 million.

No timeline has yet been set for the contaminated soil project — but public comments will be accepted through the end of November. Written comments may be e-mailed to thomas.gilmore@doh.hawaii.gov.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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