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 hoursâ€”but evacuation would take four to five hours. 9,000 evacuees would have to drive towards the flow to reach the highway escape routeâ€”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 EISâ€”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 heiauâ€”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.
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.
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 developmentâ€¦enter public-private agreements to â€¦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, 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.
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.