Waiaka Stream bridge project yanked

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It’s back to the drawing board for plans to replace the Waiaka Stream Bridge.

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It’s back to the drawing board for plans to replace the Waiaka Stream Bridge.

The state Department of Transportation has yanked its final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact because of “new circumstances and information that require additional studies,” according to an Oct. 16 letter from DOT Director Ford Fuchigama that was released Saturday by the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

“We will examine an appropriate series of alternatives and submit a second (draft environmental assessment) … for this project at a later date,” Ford said in the letter. “The purpose of the second (draft environmental assessment) will be to inform interested parties of modifications to the proposed action since the publication of the previous environmental assessment and to seek agency and public input related to these changes.”

Ken Tatsuguchi, the engineering program manager who is listed in the letter as the source for more information, did not return a phone call Monday or Tuesday. A DOT spokesman was unable Monday or Tuesday to provide specifics or estimate how long the new process will take.

But new federal guidelines that went into effect in 2012 may be playing a role in the need for additional studies, state Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala, said Tuesday. The bridge replacement, near the intersection of Kawaihae and Kohala Mountain roads in Waimea, has been in the works for years, with the first draft environmental assessment published in 2011.

Evans said under new federal guidelines, particularly relating to streams, the state might have to do the more intensive environmental impact statement, rather than just an environmental assessment.

“Streams are pretty heavily looked at,” Evans said. “They just may be trying to avoid a lawsuit.”

Opposition from actress Roseanne Barr may also be a factor. Barr, whose Big Buck Trust purchased the neighboring farm in 2007 and the Kamuela Museum two years later, has launched a Twitter and YouTube campaign to save the bridge.

“Again, government encroachment is threatening to destroy two important Waimea landmarks and further dilute and desecrate the rich history of the Hawaiian Peoples,” Barr said in her Roseanneworld blog in late 2014. “At the intersection of Highways 250 and 19 stands the Historic Waiaka Bridge, currently scheduled for demolition in 2015 by the State of Hawaii. … I have tried for years to stop the desecration of the Waiaka Bridge, and having failed, I wish to turn to the people of this community who care about the history of the Big Island, to make their voices heard.”

The 38-foot-long bridge was built in 1932. Barr couldn’t be reached for further information by press time Tuesday.

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The Waiaka Stream bridge replacement is part of an upcoming agreement with the Federal Highway Administration. The agreement will sort out project management and cost-sharing responsibilities.

A 2012 environmental assessment estimated the Waiaka Stream bridge replacement project to cost between $8 million and $14 million.

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