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Work on Kukuihaele Park could soon get underway

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Hawaii County is moving forward with modified plans to improve Kukuihaele Park.

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Hawaii County is moving forward with modified plans to improve Kukuihaele Park.

A final environmental assessment was released Wednesday for the North Hawaii project. The Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation gave it a finding of no significant impact, or FONSI, allowing the project to move forward. Funding in the amount of $2.5 million has already been allocated for the project via a 2015 county-issued bond.

Park officials expect to get construction underway shortly with work being complete later this year, possibly November, Hawaii County Parks Department Deputy Director James Komata said.

However, that could be delayed should a legal challenge be filed to the county’s finding by the Kukuihaele Neighborhood Association, which has requested via resolutions that the county extend the EA process or withdraw its request for bids and start the process over. The association also collected 82 petitions from 64 households within the community that were submitted to the county; 79 wanted the bids withdrawn, three did not, and 10 abstained.

Some neighbors worry the neighborhood couldn’t handle increased traffic that could come from a built-up park with a baseball field.

Earlier this month, after dropping off the petitions at Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter’s office, the association notified her and other County Council members and the mayor that it intended to file a legal challenge to the final EA and FONSI.

On Thursday, the association, which has obtained legal counsel, provided the following statement:

“The Kukuihaele Neighborhood Association and interested individuals have hired an attorney and assembled a legal team. We are now busy writing the Complaint. We will issue a media release and may hold a media event once the Complaint is filed and served on the County. Statute allows us 30 days to do so, but we expect to do so well in advance of the filing deadline.”

Komata said Thursday the county stands behind the environmental document and its findings.

“We’re confident in the environmental assessment that was prepared for our project and we stand behind the FONSI and Final Environmental Assessment that was issued for Kukuihaele Park,” he said, adding that the county appreciated all input on the project. “It is our intent to move forward.”

Though funding has already been allocated, allowing the project to move forward, because of the modifications, which resulted in some delay, and subsequent bids that came in higher than expected, the improvements may have to be completed in phases.

“While the goal is to construct the improvements in their totality via one project, a disadvantageous bidding environment combined with limited funding may necessitate the project being delivered via a phased approach over several years,” the document reads.

Following four delays, bids were finally opened on Feb. 11, and all came in above the county’s budget. The bids, based on including all alternatives that both increased and decreased the project’s cost, ranged from $3.56 million to $7.05 million — well over the $2.5 million allocated for the project.

“The County is currently determining what scope of work will be incorporated into the construction effort taking in to account all considerations such as public input, P&R needs, availability of funding, etc.,” the document reads.

As of Thursday, no contract had been awarded for the project, Komata said.

The modified plan, in addition to the ball field, new pavilion and comfort station, also accommodates the future development of children’s playground on the northwestern corner by relocating the existing basketball court.

To do this, the project will require constructing retaining walls and grading to “capture” park land to accommodate the use, as well as a pair of switchback ramps for accessibility.

This site redesign added approximately $500,000 to $600,000 to the project cost.

The playground was among several revisions identified following a Jan. 10 meeting the county held, as well as letters and other forms of input submitted to the department.

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The other revisions resulted in savings, including reducing green 6-foot fencing to 4 feet in areas ($6,000-$9,000 savings), removing fencing in favor of landscaping along Kukuihaele Road ($19,000-$22,000 savings), and replacing koa and palms with other varieties (up to $10,000 savings).

The county originally proposed 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.