KEKAHA — A temporary septic system is coming with price tag for residents of a housing complex in one of the island’s sunniest and hottest places. Trees and bushes are being cut down, awnings are being removed.
Some residents at the Kekaha public housing center along Io Road claim the loss of trees and awnings reduced their quality of life and even created a health issue.
In the past few weeks and months the residents have lost several trees and shrubs to make way for the new septic system, which may become obsolete in five years after the county installs planned sewer lines. Now they say management is going a step further and cutting down trees and shrubs along the buildings.
Some of the work is required, according to Nicholas Berg, Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority on O‘ahu. The trees and bushes must be at least 50 feet from the septic system to protect from root incursion and in accordance to its warranty.
Berg said the Kekaha project has a lot of sun exposure and that Kaua‘i HPHA manager Karen Klock has recommended shading structures — which would be considered when funding is available. Klock also has discretion for landscaping removal work outside of the septic requirements, Berg added.
“We are working with the property manager to keep tenants involved in the decision-making process,” Berg said. “We want them to feel they are part of process and that their positions are respected.”
Henri Carnal, a resident for nearly 12 years, had one of the last awnings remaining, but he said it would be coming down — he was told it was in violation of the HPHA lease agreement. The awning rested as the centerpiece over Carnal’s doorway and covered some chairs with tall bushes on both sides.
“This is Kekaha,” Carnal said, referring to the daily sun and heat.
A retired union organizer, Carnal said he understands that the small group cannot make a difference without a much larger voice from the residents. He said the resident advisory board has not proved effective on this matter.
Carnal is most upset that the HPHA justified the loss of green space to install a septic system that won’t depreciate before the buildings are on the county sewer line within five years. He said the response was, “Do you want trees or do you want septic?”
‘We were so happy’
Patrick Moore has one of the last remaining units with Chinese orchid pods and bushes covering his entrance. He said the impending loss is a source of stress and worry.
The structures had been allowed to remain under previous management, according to Moore. The loss of shade from awnings and trees keeps the residents inside.
“We were so happy a year ago,” Moore said. “This has gone from a paradise to a living hell.”
Moore said the discretion should accomodate the local culture and people. Recently, a resident passed away in his 90s, who had spent his time repairing his fishing nets by stringing them up between his unit and a tree.
That would not be possible now under the new rules, Moore added, and is an example of the activities that retired people choose to do, just as pruning trees and shrubs or gardening.
The trees and bushes provide a healthy routine for residents who care for the plants and trees that yielded fruit, he said, in addition to shade and character for each unit.
Brenda Silva said her Chinese orchid pod kept her residence shaded for the seven years she has lived there. It is much hotter now since its removal, she added.
“I don’t even want to come out of the house now,” Silva added.
Ui Ho‘okano has lived in her unit for the past five years after retiring. She is not very mobile with a painful leg condition and said her house is now hotter without her tree.
“We have no shade,” she said.
No air conditioner
The units do not have air conditioners and residents need medical approval to install one at their own expense. The community building has three air conditioners in the staff offices but not in the community areas.
Ho‘okano said she could sit outside of her front door under the shade of bushes and an awning. She does not wish to substitute her front yard with a distant gazebo.
There is still one tree and many shrubs and flowers in front of the JoAnn Jones’ residence. She has had greenery for 11 years. The tree remains in part to a physicians letter noting heat is detrimental to her health.
“Please don’t cut down my tree,” Silva said.
With the shade, he said the residents were a community and would visit one-another outside during the day. They would garden and watch out for each other.
“These are people that mind their own business,” Moore said. “Now they are saying, ‘we are fighting this’.”
The loss of mango, avocado and Chinese orchid trees has Moore is concerned that more trees will come down with management discretion and not because they are in violation of rules. There are several monkey pod trees towering over the property and he said losing these cultural landmarks would be a great loss for the community.
Tree removal, chemical use
Tree removal is conducted by contractors and in consultation with a certified arborist on site to manage and evaluate the work that is being done, according to Berg. Some trees present a hazard of incurring on to neighboring property.
The overuse of chemicals in killing weeds along the sidewalks has Moore and other tenants concerned for the health of animals and people. He said starting a new garden is difficult enough with topsoil removed from the septic construction.
The number of maintenance people has dwindled during a state hiring freeze. With just one person doing the weeding, the tenants said the lone worker has turned from manual removal to a heavy use of chemical herbicides.
Berg said he would address the issue by checking with maintenance practices. He understands that the hiring freeze has reduced staff through attrition, but that he would to check if and why chemical overuse was occurring over physical manual removal of weeds and grass.
HPHA will follow county ordinances when deciding what is allowed or not regarding landscaping and with creating house rules, said Berg. In the end, he said HPHA wants to protect its assets and reduce clutter as much as possible.
As they move forward Berg said they would utilize the property evaluation to manage it in the most appropriate way and to incorporate that with tenant input.
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing email@example.com.