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Hilo parcel could be developed after arsenic removal

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    The property at the intersection of Kekuanaoa and Mililani streets has a history of building materials production dating back to the 1930s and contains arsenic.

A proposed commercial development in Hilo will move forward only if a plan to clean up and contain arsenic gets approval from the state.

A public meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday at the office of Hawaii Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response, 1582 Kamehameha Ave. in Hilo, next to Coquis Hideaway.

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The property planned for development, at the intersection of Kekuanaoa and Mililani streets, has a history of building materials production dating back to the 1930s.

It is currently owned by a trust established by David De Luz Sr.

De Luz is a well-known businessman who owns Big Island Toyota and other successful Hawaii Island companies.

Asked about the potential buyer and development, De Luz’s son, David De Luz Jr., said he was unable to comment at this time.

John Peard, remediation project manager for HEER, a division of the state Department of Health, said if the cleanup plan is approved, it’s likely the development project will go forward.

He said the land is zoned for properties such as a hotel or retail outlet.

“They probably have a tentative agreement with the owner to buy it, and the owner wants to sell it. It’s been for sale for a long time,” Peard said.

The purchase agreement likely is contingent upon approval of an arsenic cleanup plan, he said, noting the buyer doesn’t want to go public because “they aren’t even sure this is going to happen.”

The land has nearly been sold a couple of times previously, Peard said, but potential buyers couldn’t overcome the costly hurdle of how to clean up the highly contaminated soil.

But, Peard said, “this is a pretty good proposal … because the (highly contaminated) stuff’s going to leave.”

If the cleanup plan is approved, the buyer will move all highly contaminated soil to a landfill, draw maps of where less-contaminated soils are located, instruct maintenance personnel not to dig in those areas and keep any remaining contaminated soil covered.

Arsenic was used on canec, or fiberboard, to prevent termites. The DOH said canec was first made at Hawaiian Cane Products Ltd. at the site. The plant was sold in 1948 to Flintkote Co., which kept it open until 1960.

Canec was made from sugar cane bagasse, the fiber left behind after juice is extracted from the cane.

Arsenic-treated canec was widely used throughout Hawaii for ceilings and walls, including in homes and businesses. Degraded, worn or water-damaged canec should be avoided, but canec that hasn’t been damaged is considered safe.

Peard said any Hawaii Island home built before 1960 likely contains canec.

Arsenic is only harmful if accidentally ingested.

The state relies on public input, Peard said, to uncover potential concerns about cleanup of such contaminated sites.

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Public comment will be taken during Thursday’s meeting and the public comment period about the arsenic cleanup plan is open until Jan. 5. Those who can’t attend the meeting can email Peard at randall.peard@doh.hawaii.gov.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.