Condo residents want county to curtail park’s recycled water project

Maui Sunset crews have cultivated and maintained county park area for decades

Maui Sunset condominium maintenance crews have spent the last 40 years turning the southern portion of Waipuilani Park in Kihei into a lush, well-trimmed landscape, using their own well for irrigation at no cost to the county. However, the county plans to install a recycled water irrigation system in July. Condo owners say it’s a needless cost and prefer to maintain the southern area of the park themselves. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Maui Sunset condominium maintenance crews have spent the last 40 years turning the southern portion of Waipuilani Park in Kihei into a lush, well-trimmed landscape, using their own well for irrigation at no cost to the county. However, the county plans to install a recycled water irrigation system in July. Condo owners say it’s a needless cost and prefer to maintain the southern area of the park themselves. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

A project to install a recycled wastewater irrigation system at Waipuilani Park in Kihei is concerning condominium residents, who irrigate a portion of the park themselves and say that the project is a needless cost to the county.

Board members at the Maui Sunset condos and the Kihei Community Association sent letters to the county last week asking to stop the project, which is scheduled to begin July 5.

“It is an example of a good product being used in the wrong place,” Maui Sunset board member and civil engineer Harry Hecht said via email. “We fully support the use of recycled wastewater. This project places that product in a heavily used public park. This is wrong.”

But state and county officials say there’s no issue using this type of recycled wastewater in parks.

“And plus, we’ve got no choice,” county spokesman Rod Antone said. “We’ve got this federal ruling that we’ve got to use less R-1 water (the highest grade of recycled water) in our injection wells. We’ve got to find a way to use it, and irrigating our parks is one way.”

Condo owners say the county-maintained park area beyond Maui Sunset is drier, patchier and has more weeds than the area that condo crews maintain. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Condo owners say the county-maintained park area beyond Maui Sunset is drier, patchier and has more weeds than the area that condo crews maintain. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The 20.2-acre, county-owned Waipuilani Park and Kihei Beach Reserve runs along the shoreline fronting several condo complexes. Forty years ago, the southern portion of the park in front of Maui Sunset was mostly weeds and stickers, Hecht said. But Maui Sunset maintenance crews helped transform it into a lush, green, well-trimmed landscape.

Once a week, condo gardeners mow the grass and irrigate it with a private, nonpotable well. Every year, they dethatch the lawn to prevent mold growth. They’ve done it for almost 40 years without charging the county, residents said. Because the longtime practice has worked so well, many think the county’s project is unnecessary. They add that the park area beyond Maui Sunset’s scope is visibly drier and patchier.

“The plan which closes the southern portion of the park likely allowing the well-maintained grass to die, we believe, will not be well received by the community,” Kihei Community Association President Mike Moran wrote in a letter to the county. “We see no advantage to the county to continue on this plan, when by revising the plan, the county can save present and future costs and save a beautiful existing lawn.”

But the rest of the park needs an irrigation system, Antone said. So, the county plans to install one throughout the entire park at a cost of about $400,000. Work is expected to be done from July 5 to Aug. 11. While the park won’t close during that time period, people will need to stay out of the construction areas, he said.

Once installed, the system will use R-1 water, which is oxidized, filtered and disinfected before use, said Sina Pruder, the state’s Wastewater Branch chief. It’s used as irrigation at golf courses, parks, schools, malls, median strips and even for edible crops. Pruder added that “recycled water projects are designed to ensure that the R-1 water is applied at a rate appropriate for plant uptake and evapotranspiration rates” to keep it from leaching into the ocean.

However, precautions for R-1 water use also include posting signs and keeping irrigation at least 50 feet away from a drinking water supply well. It is restrictions like these that have residents concerned about people playing in the park after the sprinklers have gone off.

“R-1 wastewater is a good use of scarce water, but (it) does not seem appropriate to use this in a public park where sunbathing, rolling in the grass (and) playing soccer occurs,” Hecht said.

While R-1 water isn’t for drinking, it “is safe when used properly,” said state Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

“The state has guidelines to limit public exposure and to prevent overspray to drinking fountains to address public perception and concerns,” she said. “R-1 water has been used for spray irrigation for more than 20 years in this state, and in that time there have been no documented cases of illness related to R-1 water use in Hawaii.”

Still, the issue remains of who gets to run the water system. Over three days in November, more than 420 parkgoers signed a petition supporting Maui Sunset’s continued maintenance of the park. Many were Kihei residents and close to 80 lived at Maui Sunset, while about 160 were visitors from the U.S. Mainland or Canada.

John Godfrey, board president of the Luana Kai condos at the northern end of the park, said residents and guests had no opposition to the project. Other condo managers either declined comment or did not respond to phone calls Wednesday.

“If (other condos) are in favor of it, then I’m fine with it,” said Sandra Hooper, a retired nurse and Maui Sunset board member. “But let us continue to use our wells as we’ve done. Those other condominiums haven’t watered the north end of the park, so they’re looking for water.”

Antone said that the bottom line is that Waipuilani is a county park, so “the Parks Department is in charge of taking care of it.”

“According to state law, we cannot privatize county work,” Antone said. “That said, the county would be willing to, and has over the years, worked with the staff at the Maui Sunset. They’ve done a fantastic job, and they can still do a fantastic job helping out assisting our parks workers using the new water system.”

Maui County Council Member Kelly King, who holds the South Maui residency seat, disagreed. She pointed out that in some instances when developers have created new public park spaces in their projects, the county has agreed to let homeowner associations maintain them.

“It’s difficult for the county to take on new parks because we don’t have enough people to maintain them all and we don’t have the funding for it,” King said. “The county is making agreements all the time (with private owners).”

King had no issues with using R-1 water or with installing irrigation solely in the northern area of the park. She agreed that the county shouldn’t pay for something that Maui Sunset is already doing.

“I think we have to take a breath and look at things from a more practical point of view, and what is the best and highest use of that half a million dollars,” King said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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