Bridge-building mired in red tape

Kaua‘i County Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and county officials clashed over a 26-year-old zoning requirement condition requiring the current owner of the Kauai Shopping Village to build a pedestrian bridge over the Uhelekawawa Drainage Canal in Waipouli.

The bridge, if built, would allow safe pedestrian passage between that shopping center and the Waipouli Town Center next door.

At last week’s council meeting at the historic County Building, Iseri-Carvalho, a former Kaua‘i County prosecutor, insisted that PASSCO Companies own up to the zoning requirement and build the bridge Kauai Village Associates, the previous owner, never built.

“It’s a crime that we’ve had to endure all these empty promises and witness zero consequences for violation,” Iseri-Carvalho said in an e-mail to The Garden Island.

PASSCO inherited the bridge requirement when it bought the shopping center in 2004 for nearly $27 million.

On the other hand, county engineer Donald Fujimoto, in addressing the council, said a better path to take would be for PASSCO and the county to jointly build a bridge over the canal.

The bridge could be incorporated into the county’s proposed 16-mile-plus, coastal pedestrian and bicycle path from Nawiliwili Harbor to Anahola, Fujimoto said.

If PASSCO puts up $500,000 for its share of the joint project, the county could use the funds as leverage to secure another $1.5 million or so in additional federal funds to build the bicycle and pedestrian pathway.

In this way, the county can secure funds beyond the $30 million in federal funds that have been allocated for the five-phase coastline recreational project, and PASSCO can satisfy its legal requirements, Fujimoto said.

“It is a win-win situation for everyone,” Fujimoto said after the meeting. “It is a perfect example of government working with the private sector, and the public will gain, and the private sector fulfills its obligation.”

Will a recommendation by Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration fly?

It appears the council is mulling it over.

The council held the meeting to consider eliminating the bridge requirement for PASSCO, at the company’s request.

Previously, PASSCO and Kauai Village Associates were given four extensions by the county that put off the construction of the pedestrian bridge.

If the council goes along with Baptiste’s recommendations, it won’t happen without a fight from Iseri-Carvalho.

“We need to hold these developers to their fair share, make them build the bridge and maintain it in perpetuity. Too many times the people get the short end of the stick,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Garden Island. “It’s a crime that we’ve had to endure all these empty promises and witness zero consequences for violations,” Iseri-Carvalho said in the e-mail.

She will request the county take civil and criminal action against PASSCO for non-compliance.

PASSCO representatives feel, however, the joint project is one way of satisfying the requirement for the foot bridge.

Among other reasons for rejecting the proposal, Iseri-Carvalho said the idea should be turned down because the shopping center owner, on principle alone, should comply with the zoning condition and should conduct its own environmental assessment rather than become part of the environmental assessment process the county has used for its bicycle/pedestrian pathway project.

She also is opposed to the idea of the county having to pay $86,000 to PASSCO to buy a small piece of land on the northern side of the canal owned by PASSCO for a bicycle and pedestrian pathway.

Putting that pathway on the mauka, or mountain side, of Kuhio Highway doesn’t make any sense, Iseri-Carvalho said.

“The project was supposed to be on the coastal line,” she said.

Putting that phase of the bicycle and pedestrian pathway project mauka of the highway could lead to accidents for users, Iseri-Carvalho said.

She said she supports the idea of the pedestrian and bicycle path, but wants all phases built along the coastal regions, as has been initially presented by county officials. Government officials, however, have said the plan has evolved to consider putting the pathway along inland areas of East Kaua‘i, including Lihu‘e.

On the proposed joint project, Fujimoto has a perspective that contrasts with Iseri-Carvalho’s perspective.

First off, he said he wanted to refute claims administration officials “conspired” with PASSCO to build the joint project.

“It was the shopping center owner who solicited us (the county). They approached us on this because of good will. It is the best thing for their image.”

PASSCO wants to contribute to the joint project as a way of giving back to the community, Fujimoto said. “It looks good for their image,” he added.

Fujimoto also said the idea for the joint project is financialcially sound, adding implementation of the project would open up the doorway for the county to secure matching federal funds for the bicycle and pedestrian path.

The previous owner of the shopping center wanted to put in a bridge, but didn’t do so when the state DOT put in a pedestrian path on the highway when the road was expanded some years ago.

For that reason, it appears, the Kaua‘i County Planning Department has recommended the council eliminate the bridge requirement for PASSCO.

The expansion of the highway allows pedestrians to travel between the two shopping centers.

Because the state-built pedestrian walkway was in place, county officials have said there was no point in asking PASSCO or Kauai Village Associates to build another pedestrian bridge.

Iseri-Carvalho said that scenario isn’t accurate, noting Shigeto Yamaguchi, the former head of the DOT Highways Division office on Kauai, set out in documents the state improvement project was never intended to serve as a substitute for the bridge the shopping center owners were to build, and that the second pedestrian bridge was still needed.

The requirement was part of initial plans for a condominium project to be built at the site of the shopping center.

The residential project didn’t move ahead, but the bridge condition remains intact, Iseri-Carvalho said.

Fujimoto said it was his impression some council members want PASSCO to build the bridge due to public pressure.

Fujimoto said another reason for moving ahead with the joint project is that the environmental assessment study process has been started for the third phase of the bicycle and pedestrian project.

If PASSCO’s bridge requirement is integrated into that EA process, the joint bridge project could become a reality much more quickly than if the shopping center owner went through a separate EA process to build its own bridge, Fujimoto said.

“If the council insists on the shopping center owner building its own bridge, you would be seeing a minimum of one to three years set aside for the EA process,” Fujimoto said.

That doesn’t amount to good planning, he said.

Iseri-Carvalho contends the county won’t be doing that by pursing the joint project.

“They show how desperate they are for money (matching federal funds to build additional legs of the bicycle and pedestrian pathway) by doing what they are doing,” she said.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.

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