County many years behind on ADA compliance at parks

Nearly a quarter of a century after Big Island resident Alexa Russell sued Hawaii County to enforce the Americans With Disabilities Act mandates in county parks, only six of the 16 facilities the county agreed to modernize were implemented, plus the county Council will be asked to allocate $ 25.5 million in bonds to pay the rest.

Russell filed the lawsuit in 1997 in federal court. She and the district settled the case in 1998, and the parties have held regular status meetings ever since.

Hilo-resident Toby Hazel was so frustrated with the county’s slow progress in complying with the ADA that she called the judge herself, according to a court filing dated 15th of her.

“I didn’t know not to call the judge. I was just frustrated, but that’s obviously a no-go, “said Hazel on Friday. “How much longer do you have to drag your feet before you can tackle these things that have been going on for decades? They lead you around the mulberry bush. “

Hazel, who is approaching 80, said she was also concerned about two Hilo parks that aren’t even on the list. She said Onekahakaha and Carlsmith Beach Parks are in dire need of handrails.

“Non-disabled people don’t understand the struggle of the elderly and disabled,” said Hazel. “I was probably the same when I was younger. Now I understand the fight. “

The remaining 10 parks in the consent order are Papaaloa Park, Paauilo Park, Kolekole Gulch Park, Disappearing Sands Beach Park (also known as Magic Sands and Laaloa), Richardson Ocean Park, NAS Swimming Pool, Pahala Swimming Pool, Kahuku Park, Milolii Beach Park and South Hilo Base Yard, according to a letter dated June 17, wrote Mayor Mitch Roth to the county council asking for a $ 25.5 million bond issue.

“There are still 10 projects to be completed under the agreement,” said Roth. “The projects must be completed by 2022.”

The council is due to adopt Bill 48 at its council meeting on July 7th, approving general bonds backed by the full confidence and creditworthiness of taxpayers.

The bill is being accelerated to allow the county to report its progress to federal judge Rome Trader at a status conference on August 25. At the last status conference on May 6th, the county announced that two contracts had been awarded, and construction of the NAS swimming pool and Kahuku Park should begin shortly. A public session was also planned to gather community feedback on the Milolii Beach Park project.

“Our county’s debt servicing capacity has been reviewed to ensure we are able to issue additional bonds up to the amount requested. With this $ 25,500,000 authorization, our debt servicing percentage will be approximately 13.1%, ”said Roth. “This percentage is in line with our Government Finance Officers Association policy that debt servicing spending should be less than 15% of total spending each year.”

Calls to Maurice Messina, the director of County Parks and Recreation, plaintiff Russell’s attorneys and County Corporation Counsel, had not been answered by Friday’s press deadline.

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