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Roads-acquisition bill shelved

  • KANEALI‘I-KLEINFELDER

A proposal to allow the county to acquire key private roads around the island was postponed indefinitely after being roundly criticized during a County Council committee meeting Wednesday.

The proposed bill, introduced by Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, was intended to amend the county code to require the county to take over private roadways and improve them so they could be used as alternate, evacuation, connectivity or mass transit routes.

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The bill’s purpose, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said, was for the county to take responsibility for maintaining commonly used routes for avoiding traffic, bringing such routes up to the standards of other county routes.

“If the county uses these roads, then we should be willing to take on the costs of maintaining them,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit.

Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he has been attempting to resolve the issue for more than a year, but despite months of meetings, no progress has been made.

While the bill specifically listed two series of commonly used routes to circumvent traffic in Puna, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he hoped other council members could recommend other routes in their respective districts.

However, while nearly all of his fellow council members agreed that the bill addresses an important issue, they also had extensive criticisms of the bill that ultimately led to it being postponed.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy pointed out that at least one of the roads listed on the bill — Old Volcano Trail in the Hawaiian Acres subdivision — is listed as a state historic preservation trail, and would therefore be presumably harder to acquire.

Other council members questioned how such a project could be funded, particularly during the current COVID-19 crisis.

While Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said a recent increase to the general excise tax was meant to pay for mass transit projects, county Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said GET funds cannot be used on private roads, and could therefore not be used to support the bill as it is currently written.

“In its current form, it’s just bad policy,” Kamelamela said, advising that, if the bill advanced, it should be sent to the Windward and Leeward Planning Commissions for review, as well as the county Planning Department.

Planning Director Michael Yee and Acting Deputy Planning Director April Surprenant agreed, saying they were not involved in the shaping of the bill. Yee said the bill might be “too deficient to assess” at all.

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In the face of the bill’s criticism, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder filed a motion to postpone the bill for further review by the planning commissions and Planning Department, of which the committee voted unanimously in support.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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