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Stene: NPS holding up Kona development

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Aaron Stene | Special to Hawaii 24/7

I’m growing weary of the National Park Service’s repeated attempts to stop development in North Kona. It has held up three different projects that I’m aware of over the past 14 years.

The NPS has intervened in the Kaloko Makai, Kaloko Industrial Park expansion (Phases III and IV) and the second phase of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening.

The latter project was slated to start in 2011, but the National Park Service intervened and requested a Section 106 consultation.

This opened the door for other Native Hawaiian Organizations to intervene.

The net result of these delays is approximately 100 construction workers are on the bench and a much needed highway project is stalled.

The National Park Service also intervened in TSA Corporation’s petition to reclassify 102 acres of land for the Kaloko Light Industrial Park expansion.

It did a case study titled “Using State Laws And Regulations To Protect Parks From Adjacent Development,” which detailed actions in this matter.

The TSA Corporation wasn’t able to start construction until mid-2007 due to the National Park’s intervention. However, the overall economy was sliding into the Great Recession at that time.

These lots remain unsold to this day. The TSA Corporation never recouped its $43 million investment as a result.

History is about to repeat itself on a more devastating scale if the Commission on Water Resource Management approves the NPS’s petition to designate the Keauhou Aquifer as a water management area.

The Department of Water Supply won’t be issuing new water meters until they can determine how much existing usage there is.

In addition, all new requests for water will have to go through a quasi-judicial contested case hearing.

This isn’t a quick process, as various experts will be presenting contradictory information during these proceedings.

The National Park Service actions will undoubtedly affect future economic growth in North Kona as a result.

It’s actions are not only wasting taxpayer money, but also puts the residents on North Kona in harms way.

3 Responses to “Stene: NPS holding up Kona development”

  1. janice palma-glennie says:

    Water is our most precious Public Trust resource, yet reports of water quality breaches, degradation, and increased salinity in West Hawai`I show our aquifer is imperiled.

    At presentations regarding the National Park’s petition to designate the Keauhou aquifer for its (and our) protection, Peter Young (consultant for Stanford Carr’s 5,000 home and commercial development mauka of the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park) has raised wrathful opposition to designation. Mr. Young says to look no further than the `Īao aquifer on Maui to see the horrifying affects of designation. Hearing this, I asked what permit(s) were hanging up water permitting there. Young didn’t know exact details, but said I could research it myself. What we found is that Kona residents should look at Maui, but not for the reasons he claimed.

    Riley Smith, CEO of Lanihau Properties, a company with major developments planned for West Hawai`i, suggests that based on what happened on Maui, there would be no homes constructed in Kona on vacant lots until 2025. Another hair-raising assertion — if it was true.

    What did happen in Maui is that construction activity increased after the `Īao aquifer was designated in 2004. According to UHERO, the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawai`i, county building permits increased by 85.2% in 2005, and another 17.8% in 2006. The data is not broken down by aquifer, but a majority of people and economic activity on that island are in places served by `Īao including Wailuku, Kahului, Paia, Kihei, Makena, and Wailea. Post-2006 there was a dip in construction, but was it due to water regulation? Not according to First Hawaiian Bank’s 2007-08 Maui economic forecast. It shows extensive detail about the slowdown, but the word “water” doesn’t appear even once. (https://www.fhb.com/en/assets/File/Marketing/EconForecastMaui07.pdf).

    The `Īao story is complex, but what’s clear is that business and county bureaucratic interests fought aquifer designation until the situation became dire. No need to worry, they said. The county was taking care of everything. In the numerous presentations given and sponsored by a battery of major West Hawai`I development players, including the recent Kona Water Round Table, this is the familiar refrain.

    As far back as 1986, the state of Hawai`i recognized threats to `Īao, so they tried to create protective regulation. Unsurprisingly (but disappointingly, since we all share and depend upon clean, abundant water), business and development interests successfully argued against it.

    But defeating regulation didn’t make Maui’s water problems go away. One of the big issues that Maui County faced was that they’d signed an agreement to give away water they didn’t have. The Seibu Corporation of Japan (Makena Resort), Wailea Development Co., C. Brewer and A&B Properties Inc. apparently convinced the County to give away `Īao’s water for new development in the dry areas of Kihei, Makena, and Wailea. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, these developers told the County the “Iao Aquifer could yield 36 million gallons of water per day, with the agreement calling for the partnership to receive 19 million gallons a day as their share for building the wells and transmission lines.”

    When the US Geological Survey (public scientists who report on peer-reviewed scientific research) looked into it, their findings were clear. Their data indicated safe yield of the aquifer was actually 19 million gallons a day. The County had promised to give it all away to new developers, which meant that regular residents and customers could end up with nothing.

    Nonetheless, Maui County continued to oppose designation. In 2002 a Maui Water department spokesperson testified to the Water Commission about how “polarizing” designation was and that’s why it should be opposed. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, Maui developers promised — just as Hawai`i Island’s developers are doing now — that the Water Department could keep the island’s water well-managed and protected on its own.

    `Īao was finally designated when Maui County was pumping over 95% of the yield and salt was rising dangerously. Only then did the County begin a voluntary water conservation program. They’d spent all their energy fighting designation instead of managing the resource, pushing conservation, and planning for the future.

    In Kona, a coalition of major developers, the Mayor, and County water department are fighting aquifer designation. They talk about how, based on the advice of hydrologists who work for private developers, there’s plenty of water. They decry how “polarizing” designation is. They say how great the Department of Water Supply is in managing water.

    Meanwhile, the DWS manager and County Planning Director have been asked by the County Council how many private agreements to deliver water for developers exist and how much water has been promised. Though this question has been asked repeatedly, no answer has been forthcoming. In the meantime, DWS could be doing leak detection, xeriscaping, installing low flow fixtures, or reusing water – things that would reduce demand and increase supply.

    DWS manager, Quirino Antonio, said the County will stop issuing water meters if the aquifer is designated. He gives no legal, scientific, or engineering basis for doing this. Even Maui County kept issuing meters in `Īao after designation, when the aquifer was at 95% of capacity. If Antonio follows through, it would seem more like a scare tactic and way to support developers who oppose designation for selfish purposes than action taken in the public interest.

    Is Kona similar to `Īao? Yes it is. On Maui, politics and narrow economic self-interests trumped good planning and regulation.

    Should Kona take steps to protect our water supply? Many individuals, organizations, and agencies including the National Park Service, Kona Hawai`ian Civic Club, and other environmental and cultural advocates think we should. But, despite the danger to all of our region’s stakeholders, developers would rather we wait until it’s too late.

    Janice Palma-Glennie
    For the Kona Kai Ea chapter of
    Surfrider Foundation

  2. Daniel Lovejoy says:

    Why are so many people not satisfied unless they can pave paradise and put in a parking lot, or condo, or replace it with a landscaped version of nature?
    Kona has had poor planning from day one. Ali’i Drive destroyed the Kailua-Kona Beach, and the pier helped finish the devastation.
    Tearing up a road to renovate it, only to tear it up later to put in sewer pipes and the repaving after the pipes leaves the roads in horrible condition, so another paving renovation is required.
    Developers have proven time and time again that their only concern is how much money they can make before they leave.
    I don’t mind people who question development plans that aren’t fully thought out past the profit phase.

  3. Aaron Stene says:

    Daniel,

    I don’t know where to start with your comment, as you’ve thrown everything and kitchen sink against the wall it seems like. Firstly, the contractor had to replace the waterlines underneath Phase 1 of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening because they were deteriorating faster than what DWS thought. It made sense to replace them then instead oftearing up the road a year later.

    This is why in phase 2 DWS and DEM are installing new water and sewer. As I said above, it makes more sense to do it all at once instead of later.

    I don’t like the fact that Washington D.C bureaucrats will have the final say on what kind of development happens in North Kona. The citizens living here should have that final say. It feels like that power will be stripped away, this petition is approved by the CWRM. In addition, I’m deeply afraid it will kill my job and my livelihood.

  4. Julie Downey says:

    Aaron, are you being paid by the developers? Because the fear and scare tactics seem right in line with what the Mainland Money landgrabbers say.

    Did you know that ALL of Oahu has been a water management district for years? Hasn’t stopped Rail, or the massively huge Koa Ridge subdivision from happening.

    Protect our water. Water is life.

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