Windward Planning Commission inspects mining operations

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HAWAIIAN OCEAN VIEW ESTATES — Cinder crunched underfoot Friday as members of the Windward Planning Commission and a bevy of staff and residents inspected mining sites in anticipation of a vote next week on two permit applications.

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HAWAIIAN OCEAN VIEW ESTATES — Cinder crunched underfoot Friday as members of the Windward Planning Commission and a bevy of staff and residents inspected mining sites in anticipation of a vote next week on two permit applications.

One of the mining companies is seeking to expand its 5-acre cinder and gravel quarry by another 8 acres. A second company wants a special use permit to mine 5 acres, after it was shut down for operating without a zoning permit. Mining has been conducted in the area since the late 1950s.

Objections have been raised by neighbors worried about the noise and dust. The Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Road Maintenance Corp., which is charged with collecting assessments from property owners and maintaining 157 miles of roads in the subdivision, has also entered the fray, forcing the issue into a court-like proceeding known as a contested case hearing.

But most of the 11 people speaking at a public hearing before the site inspections Friday were in favor of the mining expansion. Being able to buy from the local companies saved them a lot of money compared to getting cinder soil and gravel from businesses in Kona, Orchidland and Waimea, they said.

“We need the cinder pits,” said Robert Crook. “Now there is just gullies in the driveway. Without the cinder to replace it, I’m screwed.”

Ralph Roland agreed the cinder mining is necessary. It’s important, however, to know what happens after the mining is completed, he added.

“Everybody needs cinder,” he said, “(but) what’s going to happen once it’s done? … We just want to know the whole story.”

HOVE is one of several large developments constructed prior to present-day zoning laws. The more than 10,000 1-acre lots perched among the rugged landscape at elevations up to 4,500 feet are a mishmash of ramshackle shacks rubbing shoulders with upscale cabins, all punctuated with long stretches of stark black lava.

The roads are privately maintained and water is usually trucked in to fill catchment tanks.

At a Jan. 8 meeting in Hilo, some residents raised concerns about dust and noise from the mining operations.

Neighbors John Dancell and Debbie Sheldon told the commission the dust from the mines infiltrates their homes and coats surfaces. Their children have asthma and other breathing problems, they said.

“If you folks were living in my house, how would you feel?” Dancell asked. “It’s directly across the street from my house.”

The commission and its followers — about 20 people in all — spent more than an hour after the hearing, peering into deep chasms chiseled out of the ground, looking at heavy equipment sitting idle near multi-colored striations of carved out hillside and checking out the wear and tear on the roadways.

Commissioners asked a lot of questions, but, as instructed by staff and attorneys, they kept their opinions to themselves.

Commissioner Donald Ikeda, a former County Councilman from Hilo, said it was his first visit to HOVE.

“It was helpful,” he said of the site visit.

Planning Director Dru Kanhua also saw the value of making the 80-plus-mile trip to the rural community.

“It was helpful for all the commissioners,” he said.

Those opinions will likely come out at 10 a.m. Thursday in Hilo, when the commission takes up the matter for what might be its final time. The commission has been mulling over the case since June.

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The HOVE Road Maintenance Corp. has the authority to levy assessments against heavy trucks annually to traverse the roadways. But the road company has been unable to strike an agreement on increased mining activities and intervened in the case in the hopes of raising the road fees.

A three-member panel of the six-member planning commission Nov. 30 issued a 41-page finding and recommendation that the companies be allowed to expand operations. The finding sets certain requirements, such as setbacks and buffers, dust control, mining be limited to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and an annual report to the Planning Department.

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