KAILUA-KONA — Construction of a permanent federal inspection station at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole is expected to get underway next spring — and for substantially less than anticipated.
Honolulu-based Nan Inc. submitted the apparent low bid for the project at $54.6 million, some $14.4 million less than the $69 million allocated for the facility where passengers and baggage from foreign countries are screened.
“It looks like we should be able to save some money on this project,” said state Department of Transportation spokesman Timothy Sakahara. “Again, it’s got to be finalized, but it’s very good.”
Nan Inc.’s offer was among four bids submitted for the project; all but one came in under the funding allocated by the state Legislature. Honolulu-based Hawaiian Dredging submitted the second lowest bid at $58.1 million, followed by Colorado-based Hensel Phelps at $62.9 million. Hilo-based Isemoto Contracting Inc.’s $74.3 million bid was the highest.
Sakahara said once the award is finalized, construction should commence in spring 2019. Work will take 18 months, which means the project should be complete by late summer or early fall 2020, well ahead of a December 2021 deadline.
The facility was previously estimated to cost $50 million, however, the addition of the holdroom building and waiting area increased the price. The submitted bids cover the entire project though the 2018 state Legislature increased funding for the project to $69 million.
The facility needs to be completed by the end of 2021 as agreed on by the state and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in December 2016. That agreement permitted the airport to continue using — for up to five years — the white tent currently housing the Federal Inspection Station, allowing for the resumption of international direct flights to the airport.
Until the agreement in December 2016, customs and immigration officials hadn’t been stationed at the airport’s international tent since Japan Airlines stopped flying to Kona in 2010. A temporary practice of having charter flights reimburse Customs for flying agents from Honolulu to Kona to staff the customs gateway there was ended in 2012.
Those direct Japan-to-Kona flights offered by two different airlines accounted for about 8.7 percent, or about 9,584, of the 110,365 seats arriving in April at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, according to the most recently released Hawaii Tourism Authority data.
This year, arrivals from Japan are up 149 percent with some 38,058 seats coming to Kona so far this year compared with 15,288 at this point in 2017.
Flights from Canada clear customs before departing the country. No other international flights currently service the airport.
Customs first opened the temporary facility within the tent in 1995 to allow for the Japan Airlines flight that commenced in June 1996.
West Hawaii Today reporter Tiffany DeMasters contributed to this report.
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