Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023|
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A Hilo Circuit judge this week issued a ruling that gives Hawaii County the legal green light to begin construction of planned improvements to Kukuihaele Park.
Judge Greg Nakamura denied Kukuihaele Neighborhood Association and several individuals a preliminary injunction prohibiting the implementation of the county’s plans.
The judge also granted the county’s motion for summary judgment against the community group and individual plaintiffs Colleen Lawrence, Koohan Paik, David Allen, Miquel White and Rudolph Angelo.
Paik, the association’s secretary, said her initial reaction to the judge’s decision was “outrage.”
“We have no intention of backing down one iota in any way, shape or form,” Paik said Wednesday. “We’re prepared to put our bodies in front of heavy machines because we didn’t get the injunction. We are steadfast in our belief that we deserve due process in the environmental law as it is written in the state of Hawaii, the (Hawaii Environmental Policy Act). That has been violated, and when we take it to a higher court, that will all come out.”
The county in April awarded a $5 million contract to Isemoto Contracting Co. — twice the amount of the original estimated price tag — for construction of a fenced Little League baseball field, dugouts, 18-foot-high chain-link fence backstop, basketball court, 27 parking stalls, pavilion and comfort station on the 4-acre park in the tiny former sugar plantation village just northwest of Honokaa.
The plaintiffs disputed the findings of no significant impact on the environment in the draft and final environmental assessments, that were prepared by Hilo consultant Ron Terry of Geometrician Associates, and sought a more intensive environmental impact statement on the park project.
The civil action named as defendants the Department of Parks and Recreation plus Mayor Billy Kenoi and Parks and Rec Director Clayton Honma.
Nakamura’s ruling came Monday, almost a month after a June 14 hearing in which the association’s attorney, Georgette Yaindl, argued the finding of no significant impact in the draft and final environmental assessments “is clearly wrong.” She also told the judge an EA, which isn’t required to take into account community needs and wishes, is “insufficient,” and argued an EIS, which addresses the issue of community need, should be done.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Christopher Schlueter argued at the hearing the plaintiffs were attempting “to unilaterally determine how the Kukuihaele Park would be used, regardless of the needs of the community” and said their “personal preferences are not a valid base to invalidate the EA or prevent the project.”
In his 16-page decision, the judge wrote the final EA was “compiled in good faith … and sets forth sufficient information to enable the decision-maker to consider fully the environmental factors involved and to make a reasoned decision after balancing the risks of harm to the environment against the benefits to be derived from the proposed action, as well as to make a reasoned choice among alternatives.
“Succinctly, the (final environmental assessment) is sufficient.”
“The county appreciated the court’s analysis of the legal issues and well-reasoned decision,” Schlueter said in a Wednesday email. “The court correctly determined that the facts and law lead to only one conclusion, that the Kukuihaele Park Improvements project did not have a significant impact on the environment. The final environmental assessment … represented a complete and thorough evaluation of potential environmental concerns. The community has patiently waited for decades to see the park improvements and the county is pleased to now enter the implementation stage. I am confident the park upgrades will well serve our communities for generations to come.”
Allen said there was a “disconnect between this group of people in the government who are dead-set on doing this and … the majority of the people here” who don’t want the improvements as drawn up.
“We do not want that. We want a pavilion and bathroom, and leave the rest of it alone,” Allen said. “I’ve lived across from this park for 10 years, and to take this away from all these people here, just so a baseball team from Hilo or Honokaa has an extra field, is just plain wrong. Anybody who questions this should come out here and see and ask yourself, ‘Could this road really handle what they’re talking about doing?’ And the answer’s going to be no.”
Allen also questioned $99.75 million in general obligation bonds requested by Kenoi and passed unanimously by the County Council in June 2015. The lion’s share, $50 million, goes for Parks and Rec projects.
“Where do they get the money for all this?” he questioned, rhetorically. “A hundred million for parks when they don’t maintain the ones they do have. I didn’t get to vote on this. We turned in two documents to them, signed by the majority of the people in the community, who say they don’t want this. And they threw the first one away. And the second one, no comment.”
Paik referred to the mayor’s upcoming criminal trial on charges he purchased personal items on a county-issued credit card, known as a pCard, saying she’s “disgusted by this administration and the way it’s let down its constituents.”
“Judge Nakamura is unsuited to make a fair ruling in any case in which the defendant is Billy Kenoi,” she said. “The ruling is clearly biased, and the judge should have recused himself like he recused himself from the felony theft trial of Billy Kenoi earlier this year.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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