Ke one ‘anapa o Waiolama
The sparkling sand of Waiolama
This is an expression much used in chants of Hilo, Hawai’i. Waiolama is a place between Waiakea and the town of Hilo. It was said to have sand that sparkled in the sunlight. (Pukui, #1773)
The Waiolama marsh was just inland from the Hilo shoreline. This river/marsh area was also developed into a fishpond and was used for a unique type of kalo cultivation (kipikipi).
“In flat swampy ground earth is heaped up into long mounds 3 or 4 feet high and about 3 feet broad on top, each mound surrounded by water left standing in the ditches created by digging out and heaping up the earth.”
“The taro is planted around the lower margins of the mounds near the water; sweet potatoes are planted on top. This method of swamp-land planting finds its counterpart in the old style of mounding”. (Handy)
The ali‘i Ruth Ke‘elikolani had a house near the bay at Waiolama, and spent time there during her well-known 1880-81 visit to Pele, at which it was said she successfully stopped an advancing lava flow just over a mile above Hilo Bay.
In 1889, a small canal was dredged to divert some of the water from the Waiolama Marsh into the Wailoa River. The drainage canal was enlarged and paved between 1915 and 1917.
Then, in the early 1900s, the Territory of Hawai‘i saw the opportunity to drain and fill the land that “was valueless” to be “available for the growth of the business district of the city” and attain “a valuation greatly in excess of the cost of the filling and draining.”
In Hilo, the Waiolama Reclamation Project included the draining and filling of approximately 40-acres in the area between the Hilo Railway tract, Wailoa River, and Baker and Front Streets. It included diversion of the Alenaio Stream. (1914-1919)
“One of the most important undertakings on Hawaii has been the Waiolama Reclamation Project. The Lord-Young Engineering Company, Ltd., was awarded the contract for the reclamation of about forty acres of swamp land in the district between the Hilo Railway tract, Waioloa River, and Baker and Front streets, Hilo.”
“(T)here was a total flow of 36,000,000 gallons of water into the swamp, exclusive of storm water from the Alenaio Stream, and that the estimated cost of diverting this flow before it enters the swamp would be $33,800.00.” (Superintendent of Public Works Report, 1916)
“Over 215,000 cubic yards (CY) of fill material were needed. Of this, 207,000 CY of black sand were obtained from the nearby Bayfront Beach. The remaining 8,000 CY or so of fill material were obtained from the dredging spoils of the Waiolama Canal which was also a part of the project.”
The nearby Ponahawai Reclamation Project required another 32,000 cubic yards of fill material, all of which was obtained from the Bayfront Beach.
“In all, about 247,000 CY of fill material were required for the two projects. Approximately 239,000 CY of this total came from the Bayfront Beach.”
“Apparently, sand mining along the ocean side was also occurring at about this period. This was accomplished by the railroad company by using a rail-mounted crane with a clamshell to load gondola cars. The sand was used for bedding and a variety of construction purposes in East Hawaii.”
“On 16 December 1921, high waves undermined the railway and deposited sand at various areas. All of Mo‘oheau Park was inundated except for the inland-most 100 feet. Opposition was raised by the Hilo Railroad Company over the dredging of sand from the beach for the Ponahawai Reclamation Project.”
“They claimed that the dredging of sand from the earlier Waiolama project had compounded the heavy surf and had contributed to the undermining of the tracks through the removal of beach frontage.”
“It was at about this time that the railroad company began dumping stone to form a crude revetment at the western portion of the bayfront shoreline. After some delay, the railroad relented their objections to further dredging of beach sand. Then on 3 February 1923, a tsunami (again damaged the railroad tracks along Hilo’s bayfront shoreline.” (Army Corps)
Later, the Army Corps implemented the Alenaio Stream Flood Control project here. Completed in 1997, the project consists of a levee; channel, floodwall structures and other improvements.
Today, what was once a river and marshland … and unique kalo cultivation area is now open space and soccer fields at Hilo’s Bayfront area.