Petroglyphs, Turtles, Lava Flows and Hotels?

by Cory Harden

Here’s what we had to say about the $1 billion-plus Kahuku Village proposed by a Delaware company for the Pohue Bay area in Ka’u. 

We commend Nani Kahuku ‘Aina for supporting efforts to protect turtles, and for responding to public input by dropping plans for a Mauka Village and airport, planning to leave 90% of the land undeveloped, planning trails, sidewalks, pedestrian and bike paths, and planning energy conservation. But serious concerns remain.

Lava flows could race through this volcanic high-hazard area in two hours—but evacuation would take four to five hours. 9,000 evacuees would have to drive towards the flow to reach the highway escape route—which might be blocked by lava. Many people would be tourists who might not take warnings seriously and might not know what to do. An extended eruption could cut off the highway for months.
Tsunamis also pose risks, but analysis is inadequate. And ground cracks pose risks to structures,  children, and pets.

Human-caused risks include already overstretched police, fire and medical services, and an old bombing range in the area that should be evaluated for possible hazards.

Protection plans for the wealth of natural and cultural resources appear inadequate. It seems unrealistic that the Hawaiian Heritage Center could garner enough funding for protection, given a daily population of over 9,000, mostly visitors unfamiliar with our ecosystems, constantly coming and going, requiring extensive, repeated education. DEIS statements about protection seem contradictory: it proposes public access for swimming, fishing, and camping, then proposes viewing of the shoreline buffer zone from walkways. The Center name seems at odds with its mission: “balance property ownership needs with the needs of the Ka’u district”. County and State offices, hampered by understaffing, would have difficulty overseeing impact mitigation.

We are concerned that PBR, author of the DEIS, seems not to have anticipated problems when it did the Hokulia EIS—runoff, charges of improper handling of burials and cultural sites, a ruling that it was an urban project illegally built on agricultural land, and a lawsuit to block a highway that developers needed to build.

Marine life in the area (which may be the most important turtle nesting area in the state) includes the threatened green sea turtle, the endangered Hawksbill turtle,  endangered Hawaiian monk seals, and two rare shrimp.  Surveyors called the anchialine ponds “exceptional” and “extremely fragile” and warned that they “support and affect” all wildlife in the area.

The wildlife survey only covered a small part of the property. It reported no bats, though there have been sightings in the general area. The plant survey may have missed some species, since it was done after a drought.

The extensive archaeological features are a window into the past for one of the earliest places in Hawai’i settled by Polynesian voyagers, and little disturbed by modern times. The area has two heiau—one said to be used for human sacrifice and built by ‘Umi; a fishing shrine; six burial features; one of largest abrader quarries recorded in Hawai’i; vast petroglyph fields; remains of settlements; and trails. Some features may have been missed, since the archaeological survey appears inadequate for the significance, acreage, and number of sites.

It is difficult to imagine these lands of rich natural and cultural resources and scenic beauty subjected to a 1,600-acre mixed-use village, 1,650 single- and multifamily units for residents and visitors, helicopter facility, golf course, wastewater treatment plant, three water reservoirs, and possibly a grocery store, retail stores, restaurants, offices, a bio-fuel power generating facility, and other commercial facilities.

Economic benefits are uncertain. Taxpayers would be impacted by increased property taxes; building of roads, utilities, and sewers; and perhaps subsidized home insurance in this high lava hazard area. (The new roads would not prevent worse traffic.) Occupancy rates for existing hotels on Hawai’i Island are not encouraging. For golf courses, there are reports that three existing courses in Ka’u operate at a loss.
Community support may be lacking. Since the Ka’u Community Development Plan is still being written, it is not clear that the project will follow it. For the larger version of the project in 2009, many letters in opposition were individually written, while many in support were form letters.

It is disturbing that the project manager said a “use or lose” requirement would be “odd”. (“Use or lose” means if the land is sold, it reverts to the old zoning and old land use classification.) There are rumors of involvement by Charles Chidiac, of the failed Riviera resort proposed for this area; these should be confirmed or denied.

Our recommendation:
We strongly support entrusting these lands, possibly through a land exchange, to a public and/or non-profit entity with the background and resources to ensure they are protected.

What you can do:
Watch for Kahuku Village at upcoming meetings of the State Land Board and County Planning Commission.


Mauna Kea
Moku Loa Group members have been attending the August contested case hearing regarding the Thirty Meter Telescope project proposed for the northern slope of Mauna Kea’s summit area.  “The National Park Service contends that the permanent destruction of any surface geologic structures within the Mauna Kea National Natural Landmark is significant and it denigrates from its overall status”, said Rory Westberg, NPS Acting Regional Director, in the final EIS. While TMT EIS planner Jim Hayes confirmed that the project would add an additional increment to the already significant impact to the natural and cultural resources of Mauna Kea, he claimed that the proposal did could still meet Conservation District criteria, a statement contested by petitioners.

The comprehensive management plan (CMP) is plan in name only, apparently; thirteen years have passed since the Legislative Auditor faulted UH and DLNR for lapses in management, but there is still no burial treatment plan, no invasive species control and rapid response permits, and no plan to deal with hazardous waste and petroleum spills according to witnesses for the university.  Questions posed to the UH/TMT planner Gary Sanders revealed that while “substantial rent” was promised, no negotiations have taken place, and no rent would be paid before 2018 at the earliest. Although $1.3 billion would be needed to construct the telescope, and more to decommission it, the funders were aware that the UH General Lease expires in 2033, there have been no negotiations to extend the lease. Thus it would appear that astronomy at the TMT site could be limited to a ten year period. The hearing concludes September, with decision-making to follow.

MLG members contributed over $3200 to KAHEA for litigation expenses to protect Mauna Kea.

Public Lands Development Corporation  Act 55
Little-noticed during the legislative session, Act 55 was signed into law by the governor over protests from several conservation organizations. Act 55 raids DLNR land conservation fund to hire an Executive Director and staff for the Public Lands Development Corporation, to “ identify public lands that may be suitable for development…enter public-private agreements to …develop the public lands”, and “projects pursuant to this chapter shall be exempt from all statutes, ordinances, charter provisions, and rules of any government agency relating to special improvement district assessments or requirements; land use, zoning, and construction standards.” We will be looking into the legality and consequences of this bill; if you would like to be informed, please contact the Hawaii Chapter Conservation committee.

Nani Kahuku
Nani Kahuku, a proposed development in Ka`u includes Pohue Bay turtle nesting area and contains a multitude of cultural and archaeological sites and known historic trails. EIS comments are due about Sept. 21. As proposed, 1600 acres would be changed from conservation to urban. However it can’t go forward till the Ka‘u Community Development Plan is completed. It also needs Land Use Commission and County General Plan approval. Hawaii County planners are concerned about evacuation since lava flows in the area are known to advance rapidly.

HAMET
Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) expansion proposals continue apace. The Army is proposing enormous modernization projects at Pohakuloa and helicopter landings on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa; High altitude (HAMET) helicopter training proposed for BLNR approval in September would take place over or near critical habitat for palila, `ua`a`u, `io, nene.

Hu Honua Biomass burning facility
EPA expects that particulate pollution could be much higher than stated in documents filed with DOH, which approved the air quality permits last week.

Papaikou public access
Access has been interrupted or denied by landowners who close a historic trail to the beach. Moku Loa Group may participate in support of litigation with Surfrider Foundation to assure the public’s prescriptive rights to use the trail.

Moku Loa members have provided testimony regarding Aina Koa Pono bio-energy contract with HELCO at the PUC , depleted uranium at Pohakuloa training area, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park overflights, and HAVO management plan,  Saddle Road invasive species management, Hilo landfill expansion, and many other issues.  Contact Mary Marvin Porter and Cory Harden, conservation co-chairs for more information.

2,000-FOOT COASTLINE BUFFER ZONE PROPOSED FOR HAWAII ISLAND

by Debbie Hecht

There is growing support from Big Island residents to ask the Abercrombie administration for a 2,000-foot setback on all state owned lands.  This will preserve almost 100 miles of coastline. This measure will cost nothing because the State and we the taxpayers/ residents own this property

A 2, 000-foot easement for a coastline buffer zone will help to protect and link numerous cultural sites and the National Parks on Hawaii Island. The buffer zone will provide space for a parallel trail (to the 175-mile long Ala Kahakai Trail) for hiking and biking and landing places for canoes and kayaks. These trails could be the basis for an eco-tourism industry and provide jobs for residents. The zone will protect access to beaches, for fishing, gathering, camping, surfing and ocean sports for all people. It will protect the coral reefs from degradation caused by sedimentation from grubbing and grading, which will provide abundant habitat for fish, all ocean species and protect fishing.

We propose that the state of Hawaii shall establish a 2,000 foot easement for a coastline buffer zone on all state owned lands that shall comprise a no-build zone (except for necessary park structures), for the use and enjoyment of all of the people of Hawai’i in perpetuity, so that this land can never be sold, mortgaged, traded or re-zoned. For more information go to www.dhecht.com. If you would like to be kept informed, send an email to: hecht.deb@gmail.com

KONA COASTLINE UNDER THREAT

By Janice Palma-Glennie
Hundreds of acres of West Hawai`i coastline are slated for extensive private development. Want to help protect these critical areas with a few strokes of your pen?

Sign two petitions to protect the coastline. Petitions are circulating to stop proposed mega-developments

(a Walmart Superstore in the plan!) near Honokohau Harbor at Kealakehe (Jacoby Development, Inc.) and O`oma II adjacent to Kohanaiki Pine Trees (North Kona Village LLC, which includes past Cliftos’ principals).

These two developments would spell disaster for the cultural, environmental and social resources of West

Hawai`i. And both proposed development plans fly in the face of community pleas to: 1) stop coastal development,

2) catch up with infrastructure deficits before more rezoning and development is permitted in West Hawai`i, and 3) wait until the Kona Community Development Plan (CDP) is written into law before any new developments are considered.

2) Weigh in on the County’s Open Space Commission Acquisition List. Public scoping meetings put

O`oma II in the top ten of places to be acquired as Public, Open Space. Your input in the annual Open Space update will help let County officials know that development-threatened O`oma II and coastal Honokohau/Kealakehe are still in the public’s top picks for Open Space protection.

For more information on petitions, please send inquiries to palmtree7@earthlink.net.

WEST HAWAI`I SENDS CLEAR MESSAGE AGAINST CLIFTOS’ PLAN

By Janice Palma-Glennie

Despite bad weather and Friday traffic, over 250 people showed up at a recent County Council hearing held in Keauhou. The topic was Cliftos’ proposed commercial/hotel development at coastal O`oma (on the mauka side of Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway between NELHA and Kohanaiki). Over fifty people testified against the project, while no one testified in favor of it.
At the developer’s request, the hearing on this project’s rezoning has been indefinitely “deferred.” There is no doubt that the community’s voice has made a difference (so far) in slowing down, or hopefully, stopping this untimely, misplaced plan.
Sierra Club and Kohanaiki `Ohana members collected hundreds of postcards that were signed by hearing attendees and local students, declaring opposition to the project. These have been delivered to County Council Chairman James Arakaki and entered into the official County record.

What You Can Do to Help:

  • Please call Council Chairman James Arakaki (who was not present at the hearing) at 961-8272. Ask him to schedule any hearings on this — and all other significant West Hawai`i issues—in West Hawai`i.
  • If you would like to help, get additional “no rezoning of O`oma” postcards signed and delivered to the County Council, please call Janice at 324-0093, or e-mail Karen:karen@kohanaiki.net.
  • Letters to the editor of all three local papers (West Hawaii Today, Hawaii Tribune Herald, Hawaii Island Journal) are of tremendous benefit and let “the powers that be” know that West Hawai`i residents aren’t gonna let this one slip past them.
  • Spread our e-mail/telephone alerts to anyone who you think would be interested in this effort (and let us know if you aren’t on our e-mail list). Let’s go for a crowd of 600 people at the next hearing!
  • Let Councilmen Curtis Taylor and Bob Jacobson know that you appreciate their efforts in helping residents thwart this project. Councilman Reynolds, though he voted in favor of the rezoning in Committee, has said he will vote “no” when/if it comes up in the full council hearing. You might want to call him and let him know you’ll be holding him to his word (to vote against Cliftos’ plan) and that you appreciate his change of heart in supporting protection of this coastal property.

It is critical that residents remain united and vigilant and ready to “tell it like it is” at the next hearing regarding the fate of O`oma.

O`OMA, KOHANAIKI, KEKAHA KAI STATE PARK

By Janice Palma-Glennie

After a long day (and night) at the November 7th Planning Commission hearing in Kona, three issues, which the Sierra Club and community have been tracking for years, were heard:

* REZONING AND SMA PERMITTING FOR MAUKA PORTION OF O`OMA (ADJACENT TO KOHANAIKI):

An SMA permit to allow a 400-unit commercial/hotel development on approximately eighty acres drew a 3-3 vote, the second time in a row a decisive 5-vote quorum was lacking for permit denial or approval (County Council rezoning decision pending). Sierra Club testified that this project is untimely and unwarranted, with too many unanswered issues, including infrastructure, view plane, degradation of near shore waters, public access, and future recreational use of the parcel, especially since the property is up for sale.

* SMA PERMIT FOR “IMPROVEMENTS” AT KEKAHA KAI STATE PARK, MANINI`OWALI (Kua Bay) SECTION

For a decade, Sierra Club has had direct input into the park’s planning. However, doubts remain about whether the designed 30 parking stalls (with later accommodation for 20 spaces) and arbitrary hours of park operation adequately address public access. Instead, does limited public access to this northern section of the park provide thousands of adjacent, private residences more exclusive use of public land, as has been seen at Hapuna Beach? Private, commercial use (i.e., filmmaking) of this designed “noncommercial, wilderness” park continues. Glen Taguchi (head of Hawai`i Island’s State Parks) assured planners that problems raised by the Sierra Club and others would be addressed. The SMA permit as presented, however, was granted without changes.

* SMA PERMIT FOR HOME/GOLF COURSE DEVELOPMENT AT KOHANAIKI

After fourteen years of community activism and a Supreme Court ruling to protect the right of native Hawaiians to access developed land and the planning process itself, Kohanaiki – the center of those decisions – will be transformed by a California developer. An SMA permit was granted for a 500-home luxury subdivision with approximately forty acres to be set aside as a public park. Sixty additional acres are being touted as “public domain.” That land will be deeded to the County. However, in a somewhat convoluted, no-fee lease agreement, that acreage will be developed as a private golf course (with only one day per week of public play).
We are gratified that a unique 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 management agreement (owner/county/public) was agreed upon to guide park design and future use; as Nansay’s plans for the property in 1990 were significantly worse. But doubts still linger over real gains made by a community that has been so committed, for so long, to protect the area’s natural and cultural assets.

THE LONGEST DAY. As to our current planning hearing process, one has to wonder if expecting planners to make clear decisions on critical issues after sitting in a hearing for more than eight hours in one day is the best (and fairest) way to handle a burgeoning amount of rezoning and SMA requests. When planners are complaining at 5:00 pm that they are too tired to think, yet go on to hear requests until 10:00 pm, it seems inevitable that both planners and the communities they are meant to serve and protect are doomed to suffer.