Commission holds off on Burns Field decision until state finishes new study

LIHU’E — The Kaua’i Planning Commission Tuesday agreed to wait on a decision on permits needed for expansion of Hanapepe’s Burns Field until the state prepares a new environmental assessment (EA).

This was after attorneys on both sides of a contested-case hearing agreed to waive legal requirements regarding the commission decision-making timetable.

The EA the state originally submitted with its application for county permits necessary for expansion of Burns Field was ruled inadequate as a matter of law by a state judge because it did not adequately address moving tour helicopter operations to Lihu’e Airport as an alternative to the Burns Field proposed improvements.

The state Department of Transportation Airports Division is in the process of preparing the new EA, said Michael Lau, state deputy attorney general representing the DOT.

It is not known how long it will take to prepare a new EA, but another state judge turned down a DOT request to allow the state to prepare the new EA without allowing public comment.

“When that is finally accepted as being done, the new EA, then what’s going to happen is the commission will reconvene with the parties, and they’ll inform both the state as well as Mr. (Arnold) Lum, the attorney for Ms. (Wilma) Holi, to prepare their proposed decision and order for the case,” said Blaine Kobayashi, deputy county attorney assigned to the Planning Department and commission for this contested case.

There is normally a 30-day time limit between the time the commission reconvenes and requests the proposed decisions and orders, and the time they are due, Kobayashi said.

Lum, of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, asked the commission if it would consider hearing closing arguments, and commission Chair Gary Baldwin responded that the commission would.

Baldwin closed the contested-case hearing Tuesday after nearly an entire business day’s worth of testimony. He said the commission with four affirmative votes may chose to re-open the public hearing portion of commission deliberations after it gets the revised EA from the state.

The attorneys agreeing with suspending the normal commission decision-making timetable essentially gave Lum the same thing he requested at the beginning of the contested-case hearing — a motion that the commission not rule on the Burns Field permits until that new EA is done.

That motion failed on a 2-2 vote, with Baldwin and Commissioner Bob Kaden voting against, and Commissioners Abby Santos and Dr. Ramon de la Pena voting for. A four-vote majority is needed to approve most actions on the commission floor.

That vote meant the contested-case hearing would proceed.

Through questioning from Baldwin, Lum admitted that an EA is not needed by commission rules for this particular application.

The state contends through Ben Schlapack, head planning engineer for the DOT Airports Division, that the Burns Field improvements are needed for safer and more efficient operations there.

The closest proposed improvement to the nearest salt pan is around 1,600 feet, and the distance between Puolo Point and the nearest proposed improvement is around 2,200 feet, Schlapack said.

He testified that it is unlikely that any petroleum contaminants from the airfield or improvements would make their way into the salt pans, and that drainage from the runway and proposed improvements would not impact the salt pans.

As agreed to by attorneys for both sides in the contested-case hearing, only the potential for petroleum products doing damage to the salt pans, and the cultural importance of the area to Native Hawaiians, are issues under consideration.

Schlapack admitted under questioning from Lum that no studies have been done to determine which direction underground water might flow, and de la Pena said contaminated underground water could make its way to the salt pans, or into well water sources used by those working the salt pans.

Through several questions from Planning Director Dee Crowell, Schlapack admitted that a privately owned fuel tank on the field doesn’t have a Shoreline Management Area (SMA) permit generally required for development within the shoreline area.

Schlapack said the state considers the fuel tank equipment as opposed to development, so didn’t think an SMA permit was necessary.

The fuel tank on the field will have to be moved if the improvements are approved, Schlapack said.

Regarding the issue of the cultural importance of the area to Native Hawaiians, many of whom know the place to be a jumping off point for deceased Native Hawaiians entering the next world, Pualani Kanakaole Kanahele testified that a heiau nearby dedicated to Kane and Kanaloa usually indicates the presence of lots of underground water.

“Puolo” means “Bundle, bag, container; to tie in a bundle” in the “New Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary” by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, and Kanahele said the area’s name refers to the bag that bones of deceased Native Hawaiians are commonly placed in.

Upon questioning from the state’s attorneys, Kanahele said there is one leina in Hanapepe, Kaleina Uhane, but she is not sure where that is.

But Holi said stories from her relatives handed down over generations show several routes to the ocean “night marchers” (spirits of deceased Native Hawaiians) are known to traverse, many of them going right through the existing runway and proposed improvements.

“Leina” is defined in the “New Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary” as “Spring, leap, bound; place to leap from,” and was used during the contested-case hearing to refer not only to places along the Hanapepe coast used by spirits leaping into the next world, but the routes they took to get to those jumping-off points.

A state attorney asked Kanahele if the proposed improvements would impact the leina.

“It’s like somebody in a car running through your house,” Kanahele replied.

There were times growing up in Hanapepe, Holi said, when dogs would be barking for no apparent reason at times of the night, with the barking moving down the street as if they were barking at some unknown or unseen force walking by.

Her grandparents told her those were “restless spirits,” the night marchers, she said.

Shortly after she assisted in re-interring Native Hawaiian bones in the Hanapepe Hawaiian Cemetery, a tour helicopter crashed and one person died, cars near Burns Field were vandalized with their windows knocked out from the inside, and other occurrences took place between the cemetery and Puolo Point that she took to signify the night marchers were on the move.

Lum asked Holi what impact the improvements will have on the night marchers.

“It’ll be obstructions in their pathway,” she said.

Holi said the marchers now travel across the existing runway to their jumping-off points, but that a fence erected at the airstrip several years ago impacts the marchers’ routes, as will the proposed improvements.

“Whatever is on the path of the leina will disrupt it,” she said.

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