Neighbors protest Kukuihaele Park project

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A small group of Kukuihaele residents staged a protest Tuesday afternoon at the site of a controversial county park project.

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A small group of Kukuihaele residents staged a protest Tuesday afternoon at the site of a controversial county park project.

Koohan Paik, interim secretary for the Kukuihaele Neighborhood Association, said she was prepared to be arrested in order to make her point, and intentionally stood in front of construction equipment that was tearing up guinea grass at the boundaries of Kukuihaele Park.

She was asked to stand on the roadway by a Hawaii County police officer.

“We want the county to cease and desist until our appeal is heard,” Paik said. “I need to stay.”

The park project, which includes a host of new features for Kukuihaele Park — including a new softball/Little League field, pavilion, comfort station, fencing, a playground and a 27-space parking lot — has been a sore spot for months.

The neighborhood association in April filed a lawsuit against the county Department of Parks and Recreation, parks director Clayton Honma and Mayor Billy Kenoi, claiming draft and final environmental assessments for the project were not sufficient and community members were not consulted about the scope of the project.

The park project itself is not the issue, plaintiffs say, but rather the extent of the changes and the impact to traffic in the small neighborhood. Improvements such as the comfort station, pavilion and playground have been proposed for some time. The playground was added to plans following a series of community meetings.

But the baseball field and the traffic it would bring does not suit the quiet setting, said resident Jeanne Teleia, who held a small sign that read “Aloha Aina.”

“Having Waipio traffic is already significant,” she said. “The park is the heart of our community. The open space … there’s nothing like it. We love the park the way it is.”

In April, the county awarded a $5 million contract — twice the initial price estimate — to Isemoto Contracting Co. for the project. The initial $2.5 million project appropriation was put forth by County Council member Valerie Poindexter.

Poindexter could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday, but previously told the Tribune-Herald that she would not have sought something “that a community would not want and that would not benefit the community.”

In June, the neighborhood association’s case was heard by Judge Greg Nakamura. Attorney Georgette Yaindl sought an injunction to stop the project until an environmental impact statement could be completed. An EIS addresses the matter of community needs, which an EA does not.

On July 11, Judge Greg Nakamura denied the plaintiffs the preliminary injunction, writing that the environmental assessment was “compiled in good faith … and sets for sufficient information to consider fully the environmental factors involved and to make a reasoned decision.”

An appeal was filed a week later with the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

“Even though we’re appealing this, they rushed this through,” Paik said. “What has the county got to lose (by waiting)?”

She said if the appellate court denied the appeal, the group would accept the decision.

“We don’t understand why the county cannot wait,” she said.

“It doesn’t make sense to start a big project with a lawsuit going on,” Teleia said.

Three residents said construction at the park began Tuesday morning and that they were not notified of the start date beforehand.

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“We weren’t expecting it,” Paik said. “No one was ready.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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