Wall of trash pulled from Kea'au bushes
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
WAI'ANAE — Some 200 volunteers fanned out along the one-mile stretch of inhabited bush wilderness past Kea'au Beach Park a week ago today and began gathering up trash — by the ton.
So much stuff was pulled from the bush that volunteers had enough to choke an estimated 700 garbage bags and fill two 20-foot container-sized truckloads with recyclable and bulky items.
Even that was inadequate to handle the load. When the bags and containers were full, the junk just kept on coming.
So many more tons of tires, mattresses, busted furniture pieces, broken glass, mangled appliances, contraption parts and other assorted castoffs were accumulated that volunteers decided to stack the leftovers along an access road at Kea'au Beach Park — where they remained yesterday, a sort of Great Wall of Roadside Rubbish.
The cleanup was a grassroots response to the garbage buildup that had been expanding for months along both sides of Farrington Highway west of Kea'au Beach Park.
As reported in The Advertiser on Jan. 11, the perennial trash problem has worsened as the homeless population inside the unimproved city parkland exploded following the city's beach park cleanup campaign that has displaced hundreds of homeless tent dwellers on the coast in recent months.
Even before the wilderness population swelled, the mile-long bush area — commonly described as "the wild west" or "no man's land" — had been inhabited by dozens of homeless men, women and children — some of whom had been living illegally inside the jungle for a decade or more.
One community environmental cleanup group that had previously adopted the highway became so overwhelmed by the colossal trash pile that it simply gave up.
Meanwhile, the city and state wrestled with the issue of which is responsible for trash from unimproved city property that ends up littering a state highway. City officials with the Department of Human Services have been meeting with area homeless outreach agencies to search for ways to remedy the mounting trash problem.
And since September, the state Department of Transportation has been sending out a contract crew every couple of months to haul away rubbish that has accumulated along the highway next to the bushes — the last time being Jan. 16.
Brennon Morioka, DOT director, said his department has to contract out the work because the trash includes human waste and other hazardous material, from syringes and other bio-hazards to propane tanks.
"We have met with the city and parks department to strategize the best approach to address this hazardous trash issue," Morioka said. "Ultimately we plan on going out to the public ... because this is a community issue with a community-based solution. The DOT cannot do it alone, nor the city ... this will take cooperation on all levels."
But last Saturday, in a sort of junk-inspired harmonic convergence, everything fell in place for community and private groups to do what government wasn't getting done — take out the garbage from inside the bushes.
Capitalizing on a popular music festival, Maile Shimabukuro, an area resident and state representative, offered to co-sponsor the cleanup of the Kea'au bushes as a way to garner a huge number of volunteers.
Singer "Jack Johnson has this annual Kokua Festival to benefit his foundation, which does environmental stewardship kinds of things," said Shimabukuro, who worked with environmental organization Kanu Hawaii to sponsor the cleanup on short notice.
"Every year, as an incentive, they tell people if you do a beach cleanup you get a code to buy pre-sale tickets to the concerts, which always sell out within something like a half-hour."
As word of the Kea'au volunteer cleanup spread, others joined in to assist. Tulutulu Toa, a homelessness specialist with Wai'anae Community Outreach, went into the bushes ahead of time to inform the inhabitants that they should put their trash along the roadside so volunteers could pick it up Saturday.
Rene Mansho, community relations director for Schnitzer Steel Hawai'i, arranged with her company and Roll-Offs Hawaii for the two container trucks, as well as with Interstate Batteries to pick up more than 100 automobile batteries.
Penske provided a flatbed truck.
And the city waived its tipping fees for disposing tons of debris at its Waimānalo Gulch Landfill.
In addition to the trash, volunteers from Kokua Hawaii Foundation, the community group Nani 'O Wai'anae, and folks from the Kea'au homeless community collected more than 3,000 pounds of steel that will be recycled and put to good use, Mansho said.
And even though he said "It blew my mind when I saw how much was left" at Kea'au Beach Park, a stunned Clint Jamile, with the city Department of Parks and Recreation, said his crews will "slowly but surely" haul away "all these bags of trash and two huge mounds of tires" as well.
He said he was pleased that the Kea'au cleanup had gone well.
And he added, "I think the 200 volunteers went beyond the call of duty."