Blowing in the wind – South Shore projects raise dust, complaints

KOLOA — Adelia Fuller’s 87-year-old mother has terminal lung cancer and spends most of her time at home in Koloa. Both women live near the fire station, next to a quarry with a mountain of dust piled taller than the tree line.

As her mother’s caretaker, Fuller said she has faced the same dilemma for more than a month now: Open the windows to let in the breeze or shut them to keep out the dust.

“I’ve got to decide what’s more important,” she said, “the wind with the dirt or the heat without.”

An unprecedented number of resort, retail and residential projects under construction in the Po‘ipu and Koloa areas, combined with drought and wind, have created what residents call a “dust bowl” on the South Shore.

For some, the noise from demolition is unbearable. For others, it’s the endless cleaning to keep dirt from caking on windows, furniture and cars that’s beyond aggravating. But for Fuller, the dust’s effect on her mother’s health is the only thing that matters at the moment.

With an estimated nine projects in various stages of simultaneous development, the usual nuisances associated with construction have become crisises.

Concerned Citizens of Koloa, which has reportedly fielded complaints from as many as 70 residents, has organized a dust bowl meeting for 6 p.m. tonight in the Koloa Neighborhood Center, 3461 Weliweli Road.

On the agenda for discussion are current efforts to mitigate the dust and noise and how residents such as Fuller can effectively voice their concerns or complaints.

Koloa Community Association President Louis Abrams, who plans to attend, said he has also heard from the community and attributes its frustration to the lack of information available.

“Community members really just want to talk to one person,” he said.

According to Abrams, the association’s most important request will be a single point of contact for complaints. Each company has its own way of handling them, but with a problem of this nature, a home could be overcome with dust from multiple projects depending on the winds.

Ted Blake, a member of Concerned Citizens for Koloa as well as the Koloa Community Association, said ancient Hawaiian chants speak of eight winds in Koloa, including ulumano, or spreading winds, and kamalani, or gentle breezes. Combined with the various projects in the area, Blake said it makes for confusion.

Fuller agrees, saying she has talked to five different people from one company alone. She called Goodfellow Brothers, the contractor working on many of the Po‘ipu projects, about her mother’s condition.

Goodfellow asked her to submit a complaint to its O‘ahu insurer, which sent an adjuster to the home last week. Both parties have agreed on air conditioning units for the home so the windows can remain shut.

The company is writing up a release form with the lawyers, but Fuller said she went ahead and ordered the $8,000 energy-efficient system and will have it installed whether or not a reimbursement is ready.

Lately, she and her mom have been suffering from the same irritating cough, which Fuller attributes to the dust in both their homes. Her mother’s cough, however, occasionally produces blood.

More than anything else, Fuller said it’s the non-response that has her angry.

“Trying to get them to respond was the frustrating part,” she said Thursday. “We’re still waiting for them to do something about it because they are still passing the buck.”

Ralph S. Cushnie, the island superintendent for field operations on Kauai for Goodfellow, declined to comment for this story.

Penny Osuga, who owns two homes near Whalers Cove and Koloa Landing, said she is getting hit with dust from the large-scale Kukui‘ula residential community development on one side and from the Poi‘pu developments on the other.

Osuga said her husband, who is homebound due to a knee replacement surgery, is lethargic from the heat and dust and has difficulty completing his physical therapy. Both have been experiencing allergies.

But health issues aside, Osuga said the dirt itself is bad enough. From the windowsills to the clogged screens to the carpets and the kitchen counters, she finds it everywhere.

“Our homes will never, ever be the same again,” Osuga said.

She has yet to hear back from Goodfellow, though Osuga said Kukui‘ula’s complaint hotline has been responsive; the company replaced her screens once and offered to come clean the house.

Neighbor Sam Lee has lived nearby — downwind of prevailing trade winds and about five projects — since 1970. He said even during the days of the sugar cane harvest he has never before experienced such disruption.

While he said the noise sounds like “tank warfare” at times, for Lee, the dust is the real disaster.

“It has infiltrated every part of our living space outside and in,” he said. “It’s been a constant assault for months.”

And until recently, he said the developers were not responsive to the community’s complaints.

“They are of the mind that they are doing all they can to control dust, but they don’t seem to grasp the significance of the problem,” he said.

Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Lee said he and many of his neighbors did not complain at first because “local folks are reluctant to step out of line and complain and fuss and be angry.”

According to Blake, the issue at hand boils down to being a good neighbor, which he says many of the developers have failed to understand in their handling of the situation. He said newcomers to the island are called “malihini” until they “get it,” whether it takes three weeks or 30 years.

“When you get it, you become a kama‘aina,” he said. “These guys are malihini.”

But Terry Kamen, who became involved as one of 32 owners of the Po‘ipu Beach Estates development, emphasized that the companies involved did not — until recently — understand the extent of the discontent among residents because “they hadn’t really gotten that many complaints.”

Furthermore, all the companies are meeting state and county requirements, including using windscreens and watering at the site, said Kamen.

Last week, representatives from Kukui‘ula, Kiahuna Mauka Partners, Starwood Developers and Koloa Landing, among others working in the area, gathered to discuss a collective approach to the problem.

“The South Shore is at a very unique time right now where you have several projects at early stages of development, which can bring about the most noise and dust,” said Richard Holtzman, president of Kukui‘ula Development Company.

To date, Kukui‘ula is the only developer to appoint a person to deal specifically with concerns prior to starting construction. And that has not gone unnoticed by residents, many of whom are on a first-name basis with the Kukui‘ula employee.

Because of the positive response to Kukui‘ula’s initiative, Kamen said the group agreed to use the approach collectively.

Holtzman said Kukui‘ula’s call center will continue to field concerns, though likely with added assistance and in a more comprehensive manner.

“We not only need to do what’s required but go the extra mile to bring a level of satisfaction,” Holtzman said.

An olive branch and some face time could go far with South Shore residents at tonight’s meeting, as leaders such as Abrams say the community does not want to see any projects shut down.

The area is going to be getting a lot of dust for a long period of time, Abrams said, which is more reason to work together.

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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