Honomu project draft EA complete

HILO — The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has completed a draft environmental assessment for its proposed Honomu agricultural homestead community and will host a meeting next week about the project.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Keaukaha Elementary School, with an open house starting at 5:30 p.m., according to Julie Cachola, DHHL planner. Publishing of the document begins the public comment period.

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The project seeks to place beneficiaries on subsistence agricultural lots mauka of Honomu town along Akaka Falls Road. Lots can be from 1 to 3 acres. Assuming each lot is 1 acre, up to 375 parcels could be leased to Native Hawaiians.

There are also lands set aside for supplemental agriculture, commerce and community facilities. The project encompasses 766 acres.

Cachola said it would be DHHL’s first subsistence agriculture community and the first agricultural lots created in 20 years. Subsistence agricultural lots are smaller.

“It’s time for us to do this,” she said.

Beneficiaries aren’t required to live on the lots, and the planning document estimates an eventual population of 619 people. There were about 500 people in Honomu as of the 2010 Census, said Cachola.

Full buildout could take 20 to 30 years, she said.

“The first phase might be really small, like 20 to 50,” Cachola said.

The EA says the first phase could begin in early 2019, but she said that is “really optimistic.”

DHHL has long been criticized for being slow to put more beneficiaries on the land.

The agricultural wait list on Hawaii Island alone is 7,202, according to Cachola.

The first 500 would be offered lots. She said the average age for that group is 66.

Some Honomu residents have expressed concern about impacts to the community from the increase in population and farming activity.

Cachola said DHHL is trying to address them with buffer zones to protect streams and a possible turn lane from the highway to increase safety. Conservation would account for 33 percent of the land.

“I’m hoping we can show we can be a good neighbor,” she said.

The draft EA anticipates a finding of no significant impact.

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To view the document or to make comments, visit https://tinyurl.com/honomuplan.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.