State waiting on feds to start review for Saddle Road extension

  • Three proposed routes are being considered for the next Saddle Road extension. Map courtesy of state Department of Transportation.

KAILUA-KONA — The Department of Land and Natural Resources said Thursday that the State Historic Preservation Division has yet to receive word from the federal government that would allow it to move forward with its review for the proposed Saddle Road extension project.

The Federal Highway Administration — the agency tasked with issuing the go-ahead — wasn’t able to provide clarification on progress this week.

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In the meantime, the project remains waiting.

Under consideration are three potential routes to extend Daniel K. Inouye Highway from where it currently meets Mamalahoa Highway to the south intersection of Waikoloa Beach Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway. But each differs as to their exact alignments.

One runs approximately along the boundary between the North Kona and South Kohala districts, while the others connect to Waikoloa Road close to mile marker 3 and then follow different routes down to the lower highway.

But two years after the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) came out, a final version of that report has yet to be published.

At the start of this month, a Federal Highway Administration website about the project said: “There is no new information at this time,” the same update it published at the start of June.

Its last substantial update came on May 1, when it said the project “continues to advance” with work progressing toward a final EIS.

Still underway at that time, the agency said, was Section 106 consultation, which refers to a part of the National Historic Preservation Act. The process requires federal agencies to consider the impacts their projects could have on historic sites.

That includes giving the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a chance to comment as well as consulting with the local State Historic Preservation Office along with Native American and Hawaiian groups and organizations.

Back in February, the Federal Highway Administration said the section 106 report “has been submitted for review and concurrence,” but didn’t say to whom that report had been submitted, and an agency spokesperson said he wasn’t able to get additional details at the time when contacted on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, though, said it had yet to receive a letter to initiate SHPD’s part in the review.

The agency said SHPD can only evaluate the project’s effects on historic properties once it knows precisely where development will take place as well as the design.

“In the absence of that information, it is impossible to assess impacts,” the agency said. “The archaeological consultant usually doesn’t have that information, and therefore can’t include it in the report. That has to come from the federal agency.”

The draft EIS, published in April 2017, said that there was an archaeological inventory survey of the project area conducted in line with Section 106.

In total, the draft said, the inventory survey covered roughly 784 acres, although it emphasized that, because only one alignment will ultimately be chosen, the report estimates a “disturbance area” of about 200 acres of land within a 334-acre right-of-way. Archaeological sites in the other corridor areas would not be impacted.

The survey effort turned up a total of 50 archaeological sites with a little over half of them at least partially in the area of potential effect, although construction of the road won’t necessarily affect all of the sites.

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DLNR said the state’s timeline for review depends on how many projects are on the agency’s plate at the time it ultimately gets the letter from the feds.

Noting that SHPD has a “significant backlog in reviews,” DLNR said “it will be a while.”

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