Comment period open for Kealakekua Bay park master plan draft EIS

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Access is limited to permitted tour companies at the Kealakekua Bay launch.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Vehicles squeeze past each other on Puuhonua Road near Kealakekua Bay.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Fencing surrounds Hikiau Heiau at Kealakekua Bay.

KAILUA-KONA — A draft environmental impact statement connected to the master plan for Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park — an area in South Kona the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and its State Parks Division have been trying to develop for more than three decades — has been released.

The public comment period connected to the 800-plus page document expires April 23. The draft EIS can be found at https://bit.ly/2pHsEtp.

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In the project summary, the report refers to the 537-acre park as “largely undeveloped.” Belt Collins Hawaii LLC, which compiled the document, says several measures within the proposed action to increase access to the area, add facilities, improve safety and protect the region’s natural and cultural resources can be accomplished with minimal investment.

The proposed funding would include capital improvements to the tune of $2.4 million, with an increase in operational costs to roughly $500,000 annually once all elements of the action are implemented.

Much of the initial investment would be earmarked for the Napoopoo section of the park and create, among other things, a new entry, parking lot, restroom, interpretive center and trail.

A waterless toilet, signage, shelter and landing zone also are planned at Kaawaloa, while navigational aids and buoys would be employed in the bay to protect spinner dolphin resting zones, demarcate a swim-snorkel zone in which power boats would not be allowed, and mark rock fall zones.

Other elements of the proposed action include installation of a helicopter landing zone for emergency use and permitting processes for commercial kayak rental and tour guide operators, as well as several others.

Once the proposed action is fully implemented, staffing the park would cost about $244,000 annually, while maintenance, enforcement and surveys and interpretation are projected to cost just shy of $232,000 a year.

The first plans for the park were developed in 1985 and a conceptual master plan was set forth by Belt Collins in 1997.

Gordon Leslie, a resident of Napoopoo Village and a member of a volunteer/community advisory group called Hoala Kealakekua that works to restore the area, opposed development plans in the past.

He was part of a lawsuit that halted an attempt to implement the initial phase of the 1997 plan after asserting the DLNR failed to follow the appropriate environmental review protocol.

“This plan has been the most sensible of all the plans,” said Leslie. “We’re not opposing it at this time, we just got to see what comes out in the wash. I can say this, they have downsized the project considerably from what it used to be.”

Leslie said perhaps the most pressing infrastructure issue that must be addressed is parking, adding the community there has been and continues to be concerned with the target numbers of visitors the state hopes to draw to the bay through development, which has stretched into the seven figures.

The public parking area in the Napoopoo section of the park would include 60 stalls and ease roadside parking problems on Lower Napoopoo Road.

Another concern is protection and enhancement of the area’s significant cultural and historical sites. Kealakekua Bay was home to several Hawaiian chiefs in the 17th and 18th centuries and was significantly associated with Kamehameha’s ascent to prominence.

The site also is significant in the context of early contact with the West. The earliest written accounts of Hawaiian culture originate in the bay via the crew of Captain James Cook, for whom it supports a monument.

The commencement of the project would depend on state funding, but planners suggested elements could be prioritized and introduced incrementally.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park was established in 1967 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Those who want to submit comments can do so by contacting Gov. David Ige’s office. Anyone submitting comments is asked to copy the proposing agency, the DLNR, and the consultant, Belt Collins Hawaii LLC, in the communication.

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Email addresses and physical addresses for these entities can be found via the web link to the master plan.

Email Max Dible at mdible@westhawaiitoday.com.

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