Kona Motorsport Park plans tweaked

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Call it a new angle on a decades-old idea.

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Call it a new angle on a decades-old idea.

Following discussions with the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation and other county officials earlier this month, backers of the proposed Kona Motorsport Park say they’re placing the concept of a fairgrounds and dirt bike raceway front and center and putting a controversial plan for a drag strip on the far back burner.

The first phase would have tracks and trails for motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, four-wheel drives and other off-road vehicles, plus a 30-acre fairgrounds suitable for the county fair, concerts, car shows, driver training and other activities.

The venue would offer a place for activities that will be pushed out of Old Kona Airport Park when a massive planned reconstruction of that area begins, said Paul Maddox, president of the Hawaii Racing Association.

The new emphasis, “would give us a better shot at getting the motorsport park portion of the project started and widen the appeal of the recreational area,” Maddox said. “We see compromise as good thing in the long run.”

The compromise centers around resistance to the project by some residents, who worry about noise impacts, pollution and the proximity of the 250-acre venue to Kekaha Kai State Park.

An online petition on MoveOn.org has gathered more than 320 signatures against the plan. The petition, which allows signees to make online comments, focuses mainly on location.

“I’m not against a motorsport park, but we have to think very carefully about where it should be located,” said Kailua-Kona resident Jamie Pardau, an avid snorkeler and beach user, in a phone interview. “That’s one of the most pristine beach parks we have. Anything that impacts the quality of water or beach experience is a concern. The environment is a driver of our economy. If we mess it up, people won’t want to come here.”

Comments on the petition spoke of destroyed ambiance and locating the motorsport park further from homes and the beach.

The HRA launched a petition of its own last winter, gathering 1,000 signatures in support of the motorsport park.

The park would be located about 1.5 miles above the beach park and mauka of Queen Kaahumanu Highway, said Maddox, who characterized the petition’s statement that the motorsport park would be adjacent to the beach park as a misinformation tactic.

After two decades trying to make the park a reality, the HRA hopes the county will put funding for a $20,000 to $30,000 economic study in the next budget cycle to examine how much revenue the park could generate. A recently completed sound study found minimal impacts to homes located mauka, but it failed to convince some residents they won’t experience noise from the park.

Kailua-Kona real estate agent Suzanne Patterson said the venue is a way to bring safety and containment to racing-type activities which now occur off road in questionable areas or illegally on highways.

“So many people support it,” she said. “It’s about a family venue and picnic areas. There are so few activities for kids. People immediately think drag strip — noisy engines blowing through the night. That’s not it at all.”

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The state Department of Transportation plans to spend $5.5 million to widen the Kekaha Kai State Park intersection with Queen Kaahumanu Highway, resurface the road, extend culverts and replace signs. The DOT plans to spend $307,000 on design of the project this year. The Hawaii Racing Association hopes to incorporate its own entryway into the intersection plan.

“Since the drag strip seems to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room, let’s put that on the back burner and work on the dirt parks and fairgrounds,” Maddox said. “We can probably handle that easiest because the clubs themselves can build them and it won’t cost anything, and the county can begin to see the benefits of the fairground.”

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