A road improvement plan that could cost Hawaiian Acres residents close to $1 billion shocked County Council members during a committee hearing Tuesday.
A resolution introduced by Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder at a meeting of the council’s Finance Committee sought to designate an improvement district within the Hawaiian Acres subdivision in order to improve its private roadways.
An improvement district, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder explained, would allow the county to impose a tax assessment on residents of Hawaiian Acres to generate funding to improve the private subdivision’s roads, which are not eligible for public funding.
The Hawaiian Acres Community Association only imposes road maintenance fees on a voluntary basis, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. Consequently, the subdivision has very limited funds for maintaining its roads.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said a 2020 survey by the community association found that nearly 600 of 714 respondents were in favor of an improvement district.
Puna Patrol Capt. John Briski with the Hawaii Police Department said improving the roads in the subdivision would be a boon for emergency responders because the delays caused by the current poor road conditions could be life-threatening in an emergency.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he knows of one resident who suffered a heart attack and had his wife drive him to meet the ambulance at Highway 11, rather than wait for the ambulance to drive into the subdivision.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he worked with the association and the Hawaiian Acres Road Corporation — which manages the subdivision’s voluntary road maintenance fees — to develop the resolution.
However, the resolution caused a stir Tuesday when county Finance Director Deanna Sako presented preliminary estimates for how much the improvement district could cost. Merely conducting a necessary study for future road repairs would cost about $233,000 per mile — and the subdivision has about 77 miles of roads, bringing the potential cost of the study alone to more than $16 million.
Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst said the cost of improving every road in the subdivision up to county standards could reach more than $10 million a mile, which would bring the full cost of road repairs to an estimated $837 million.
“This cannot be!” said an incredulous Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung upon hearing the estimated cost.
Hawaiian Acres residents also were surprised by the costs.
“I can’t get out of my own road, but the improvement district just costs too much,” former association board member Patrice Macdonald told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday, adding that she would prefer the county pass a law requiring homeowners associations to make maintenance fees mandatory rather than be saddled with the improvement district costs.
Sako admitted Tuesday during the meeting that the estimated costs are extrapolated from an improvement district created in Kona in 2015 for sewer improvements, and might not accurately reflect the actual cost of the project.
Furthermore, she added, the resolution was too vague about the potential scope of the improvement district, leading to potential overestimates.
Nonetheless, Sako said the costs of the project, distributed among the roughly 4,000 residents of the subdivision, could cost each resident up to about $750 a month over a 25-year period.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder was frustrated with the estimates, telling the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday that he thinks the cost is significantly exaggerated.
“I wouldn’t use these figures — they’re based on conjecture,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “With these numbers, at that point, why even have the improvement process at all? Give me a break, frankly.”
Also, the estimates are based on the maximum possible size of the project — improving every mile of every road in the subdivision — which, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said, is not what the residents of Hawaiian Acres actually want.
The 2020 survey presented several options for potential road improvement projects, with the most popular option being a plan to pave all east-west lettered roads within the subdivision — Roads A, B, C, D, E, F and G — and only improve the gravel on the north-south numbered roads, except for the westmost Road 1, which would also be paved.
Although this plan involves improvements to all roads in the subdivision, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said it would only require paving a little more than 20 miles of road.
“I’ve made it clear that the cost will be borne by the Hawaiian Acres community, and I won’t move forward with this until it’s clear that they can afford it,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said.
The Finance Committee ultimately voted Tuesday to postpone action on the resolution, with Sako saying she will return during the next committee meeting with amended numbers.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he will also work to make the resolution more clear to his fellow committee members.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.