Kokee’s fate, gate, at stake tonight

LIHUE — The Kokee State Park Advisory Council will meet tonight to continue talks on the revised master plan — including the controversial entry station — for Kokee and Waimea Canyon state parks.

The discussion begins at 5 p.m. at NTBG headquarters in Kalaheo.

In July, severe weather from Tropical Storm Flossie caused the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to cancel the meeting, originally set for July 30.

For the last three months, the council’s Permitted Interaction Group has been reviewing the proposed final master plan and discussing further changes with the DLNR, according to Nancy Budd, a former advisory council member.

Tonight’s meeting may be the final one before the committee makes a recommendation.

“The PIG report and results of these meetings will likely take up the full agenda of this meeting,” Budd wrote in an email. “It may be — likely will be — the last KAC meeting before it goes to the Board of Land and Natural Resources for approval.”

The original proposal — drawn up in 2003 by officials of the DLNR and a consultant — included a 40- to 60-room hotel with restaurant, a park entry gate to collect user fees from both residents and non-residents, construction of new overlooks above Waimea Valley, several expanded parking areas and a souvenir store at the popular Waimea Canyon Lookout.

Over the last 10 years, however, the plan has moved away from revenue generation and over-commercialization, and more toward preservation and protection.

“The state has really been very open-minded about the recommendations the council was making, with the exception of one thing,” said Councilman Charles “Chipper” Wichman Jr. “The public entry station.”

Today, the proposed entry station includes a 100-square-foot gated booth for collecting fees from non-residents only, as well as a 500-square-foot roadside support building. It would be at mile marker 7, just above the junction of Waimea Canyon Drive and Kokee Road.

Wichman said he thinks the community could be more open to the concept under certain conditions, including if the state agreed to keep the revenue generated at the entry station on island to benefit local parks.

Tonight, the KAC will likely make a recommendation to endorse the revised master plan, with the exception of supporting the entry station, according to Wichman.

“The entry station has been portrayed as many things that it really will not be,” he said.

Other community concerns voiced during the June KAC meeting included Kokee and Waimea parks being viewed by the state as a potential money-maker, with funds going back into the statewide general fund. In the end, the BLNR will make the final decision.

Already 10 years in, Wichman said Monday he believes the council and community at large has no interest in dragging the debate along for another six months, or six years.

“Everyone wants to see the process concluded,” he said. The National Tropical Botanical Gardens headquarters building is at 3530 Papalina Road, in Kalaheo.

For more information on the meeting contact NTBG at 332-7324.

• Chris D’Angelo, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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