Hanalei Roads Committee against DOT plan for North Shore road

The Hanalei Roads Committee is pressing for a determination by County Planning Director Dee Crowell on whether the state Department of Transportation is required to obtain county approval for $2.4 million in proposed road improvements along a ten-mile stretch of Kuhio Highway between Princeville and Ke’e Beach.

The citizens group, which seeks to preserve the pace and scale of Hanalei’s “heritage roads,” contends the DOT’s highways division must obtain a county Special Management Area permit and have an environmental assessment done before the work starts.

The SMA is required because of the project’s size and state law calls for the environmental study, the group contends.

Critics also contend the DOT plans for mostly steel guardrails doesn’t mach in step with the rural atmosphere of the north shore. They want DOT to explore alternative, including wooden beams backed by steel beams and concrete improvements covered with lava rocks.

But Steve Kyono, who heads the DOT’s highways division on Kaua’i, has said the repair and maintenance project is aimed at making the road safe, hence there is no need for the DOT to get the SMA permit.

Kyono also has said the “exempted” class of the work precludes the need for an environmental study. He was not immediately available for comment.

Should Crowell decide the SMA permit is warranted, a Kaua’i County Planning Commission public hearing will be held. Crowell was not immediately available for comment.

Barbara Robeson, co-chair of Hanalei Roads, said a decision was due in September, “but we are still waiting.”

An early DOT proposal included replacement of 4,333 feet of existing guardrails, including wooden ones, and terminal ends and installation of 4,817 feet of new guardrails and terminal ends.

Following meetings where people voiced concerns, the state revised its plans from 17,000 feet of guard rails to its current proposed length.

Plans also included shoulder and drainage improvements, erosion mitigation and culvert widening.

In an August petition to the planning commission, Hanalei Roads stressed the size of the project constitutes “development,” hence the need for the county permit.

The permit is intended to preserve, protect, and when possible, restore the natural resources of the coastal areas.

The group noted the SMA area generally covers the coastline, but on Kaua’i’s North Shore, the SMA zone reaches back to the Hanalei Valley to control development in the region, according to the committee.

The area is recognized by the state, country and federal government as being of special historic, cultural, natural and scenic value, the committee said.

Hanalei Roads recently nominated the 10-mile stretch of road onto the State and National Register of Historic Places.

The group also contends the SMA permit is required because:

  • The work is funded as a capital improvement project and involves relocating, replacement and widening existing culverts.
  • The proposed project is part of a series of projects the DOT has planned for the north shore. They include the Hanalei Bridge, installation of a culvert at the Manoa Stream replacement and strengthening of the Wainiha bridges and possible relocation of the Hanalei Lookout.

Projects like these and ones that have gone before them, including the construction of the “belt road” between the Princeville Airport and the Princeville Shopping Center a decade ago, have had “significant environmental and ecology effects” on resources in the SMA areas, Hanalei Roads contends.

The impacts of the projects combined are cumulative and are harmful to the environment, Hanalei Roads has said.

  • The proposed project exceeds $125,000.

However, the state contends no SMA is required because the work is merely for the repair and maintenance of the road and doesn’t constitute “development.”

The driving force behind the project is to improve road safety through the North Shore, according to the DOT.

Agency officials also have insisted the proposed $2.4 million project stands on its own and is not part of the other projects.

Hanalei Roads also contends an environmental study is required because the project is to take place on state land and state funds are to used for the work.

The proposal to use $2.4 million for the work is neither minor nor routine and “far exceeds regular road repair and maintenance,” the committee said in documentation sent to the planning commission.

Kyono, however, has said the work is among projects that are exempted from the requirement for an environmental study.

Kyono has noted the exempted projects include resurfacing, roadway repair, road shoulders, parking areas, rock wall repairs, clearing of swales and drainage conduits to maintain water flow, upgrading of or replacement of utility and drainage systems and installation of guardrails.

The DOT developed the list of exempted projects in 1992 and a DOT highways administrator concurred with a determination the project should be exempted, Kyono has said.

Critics also have contended:

  • A 25-year comprehensive roadway corridor plan should be completed before any work takes place on Route 560 (Princeville to Hanalei).
  • The proposal would ruin the historic roadway.
  • The $2.4 million should instead be used to fix or strengthen bridges on the North Shore.
  • The plan will create more development and result in speeding.
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