Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024|
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A nene crossing sign warns drivers that nene cross the street between the nearby beach parks and Lokowaka Pond in Keaukaha.
Drivers on Kalanianaole Street may have to take it slower under a bill that would lower the speed limit to protect local wildlife.
Bill 51, a Hawaii County Council bill that will be introduced at today’s meeting of the council’s Policy Committee on Infrastructure and Assets, would reduce the speed limit on a roughly 1.7-mile stretch of Kalanianaole Street in Hilo from 30 mph to 25 mph between Leleiwi Street and the James Kealoha Park Access Road.
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, the introducer of the bill, said the measure was requested by community members conducting volunteer cleanup work at the nearby Lokawaka Pond.
“Because of that work, we’re starting to see the return of our local nene to the area,” Lee Loy said. “And we’ve heard about people hitting the birds with their cars, and we want to avoid that.”
Kumiko Mattison, co-founder of the ‘Aina Ho‘ola Initiative — a nonprofit that conducts volunteer work to remove invasive species from the Keaukaha wetlands and restore native habitats — said nene have begun to return to the area since their work began in January 2021.
“The number is definitely increasing, and that’s wonderful,” Mattison said. “They deserve it, they belong here, and there’s not that many places they can go. … But we’ve also been worried about them, because that road has always been dangerous for them.”
Mattison said one mating pair nested at Lokowaka Pond over the winter and three goslings molted at the pond during the same time. However, the mother of the pair was struck and killed by a vehicle in March, and the father also was struck last month but ended up surviving.
“He was unable to fly for several days,” Mattison said. “We wanted to capture him so we could send him to the Hawaii Wildlife Center for help, but we couldn’t catch him. And we have seen him fly over a short distance now.”
Mattison said ‘Aina Ho‘ola reached out to county and state lawmakers to improve safety along Kalanianaole, and was able to secure some “nene crossing” signs to warn drivers. But, she added, more precautions are necessary to protect the birds.
The speed limit reduction might not be the form those precautions will take, though. Lee Loy said the measure will serve to “start the conversation,” but added that other traffic-control measures, such as additional signage and striping or physical speed reduction implements might be preferable, and that any speed limit modification will require further traffic studies before being enacted.
But Lee Loy added that the area also is home to several schools where children take lessons outdoors, so any efforts to protect the nene from traffic will protect keiki as well.
The council committee will discuss the measure, as well as a presentation about the general health of the Big Island nene population, today at 1:30 p.m.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.
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