Meeting called to address $2.5M Kukuihaele plan

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KUKUIHAELE — Residents of a small North Hawaii neighborhood concerned about the extent of a park project in Kukuihaele will get the opportunity Sunday to voice their concerns to the county.

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KUKUIHAELE — Residents of a small North Hawaii neighborhood concerned about the extent of a park project in Kukuihaele will get the opportunity Sunday to voice their concerns to the county.

Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation staff will hold a public meeting at 2:30 p.m. at North Hawaii Education and Research Center on Plumeria Street in Honokaa to present the project and gather input from residents both for and against, said Park Planner James Komata.

The meeting was scheduled after the county received letters, emails and concerns from residents of the community located near Waipio Valley.

“It’s pretty interesting how much feedback we’re starting to get and it’s feedback that is across the entire spectrum,” he said. “What we’ve noticed is that there might be some misinformation of the intent and scope of the project, so we want to go into the community and present the project very clearly, first-hand and be able to take questions and respond to any issues people have.”

The county is looking to spend $2.5 million to improve the park with a 27-stall parking lot, ADA accessibility, a new comfort station and pavilion, an improved basketball court, new softball/Little League baseball field with related amenities, a new jogging path and fencing. Various trees will also be removed, however, the county plans to replace those with new landscaping to include koa and palms. Work should be complete late next year, according to the draft EA published Nov. 8.

While the EA process was followed as proscribed by state law, and meetings were held, the recently resurrected Kukuihaele Neighborhood Association, which is in favor of improvements at the park but not the extent currently planned, says the county didn’t follow the “spirit of the law” by ensuring community participation and thus failed the best interests of the residents, said Koohan Paik, association interim secretary, and Colleen Lawrence, association interim president.

The association has asked the county via resolutions that it extend the EA process or withdraw its request for bids and start the process over.

“We want time and this is what the letters were saying,” Paik said. “The reason we want the bid withdrawn is so the community can come together and decide ourselves what would be the best for us.”

It also says the county violated due process by posting a request for bids for construction before the end of the public comment period. That request for bids was posted on Nov. 19, amid the draft EA comment period, with a bid date set for Dec. 23 that was extended until Thursday.

According to said Scott Glenn, director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, state law doesn’t address such action, but, there are caveats to going out to bid before an EA is finalized.

“The project specs may change as a result of the outcome of the comment process, and further, any dates/deadlines established in the bidding process might have to change if a challenge to a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) occurs,” he said.

At issue is not the entire project, but rather its extent, according to various residents in the neighborhood.

Many are concerned that a baseball diamond will preclude them from holding weddings, baby luau, and other activities. They are also worried about access being cutoff because of fencing around the park’s perimeter, among other things.

According to a door-to-door survey of 54 households — about half of the community — conducted Dec. 14-16 by the association, 36 households said “no” to the ballpark design and fencing while six said “yes” to the design and fencing. Ten were agreeable to the ballpark design, however, they did not approve of fencing.

“That’s something that can easily be taken out or modified,” Komata said about the fencing. “But we’ve got to have the conversation for the reason for that.”

Posting a request for bids or awarding a bid doesn’t mean that the plans are set in stone, he said.

“All the way up until something’s built, we have the opportunity to add, subtract and delete (items),” Komata explained, referring to change orders that allow the county to modify a contract. “I know change orders have been used in a negative light, but change orders are a good tool that can be used to tailor a project to address the needs that arise that are unforeseen or completely out of left field.”

In the end, Komata said, his department wants to make a park on which all in the community can come to a consensus.

“We certainly don’t want to end being part of what contributed to the divide — the community parks are supposed to bring the community together,” he said.

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As of Tuesday, a final EA had not been posted. The next Environmental Notice is slated for publication today. According to Glenn, the public has 30 days from publication to challenge a Finding of No Significant Impact in the state’s newly established Environmental Court.

“We want to know what people think is important to consider, we want to hear what are those concerns and really get a feel for the pulse of the community for it wants,” Komata said.

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