Kapaia site offered for youth facility

LIHUE — Grove Farm will donate five acres of land so that Kauai County may build an adolescent substance abuse treatment center.

But even with the gift, construction of the proposed facility is far from a sure thing.

The late Mayor Bryan Baptiste first proposed the idea for a youth-oriented, residential drug treatment facility more than eight years ago, so that children diagnosed with severe addiction problems do not need to travel to Oahu for treatment.

Several potential sites were selected over the years since, but the project never moved beyond the planning stage to construction due to strong resistance from nearby communities that did not want the facility in their neighborhoods.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. was visibly fired up when speaking about his determination to build the facility following a lengthy County Council meeting that discussed the subject on Wednesday.

“I refuse to ship our children away,” Carvalho said, noting that he included the project as a top priority in his Holo Holo 2020 vision for the county. “It’s our responsibility.”

The site offered by Grove Farm is located on Maalo Road in Kapaia, mauka of Hanamaulu, in a rural area that is more than half a mile away from residential areas. Plan call for construction of a 10-bed facility capable of offering acute in-patient care; the proposed facility would also offer outpatient and aftercare treatment programs.

Kauai Life’s Choices Coordinator Therese Koki estimates the facility would be capable of treating more than 200 people per year between the combined in-care and out-patient treatment programs.

But cost could be a factor: even with the donated land, construction costs will run into the multi-millions, and operational costs will top more than $1.3 million per year, according to county officials.

By agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding with Grove Farm, the County Council signaled its intent to accept the land donation, but it did not commit to providing funding for construction of the facility, or to provide future operational funds to cover the costs of running the facility.

The mayor pledged that he would find a way to get funding.

“We have to accept this gift of land from Grove Farm. This will take us to the 50-yard line; with the help and support of the community, we’ll take it the rest of the way,” Carvalho said.

Koki said the administration would try to find private partners, as well as state and federal grants, to provide funding for construction and operation costs.

Council Chair Mel Rapozo spoke strongly in favor the facility.

“When someone wants help, we don’t have a place for them,” Rapozo said. “A big component of recovery is being able to be close to your family, and that can’t happen with the airfares (if patients need to get treatment on Oahu).”

Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura said she supports adolescent drug treatment programs, but questioned whether constructing a residential treatment facility on Kauai is the best way to provide it.

She also expressed concerns that the facility would be too expensive to be sustainable and would eventually get shut down, as happened on Maui and Hawaii Island.

Yukimura said there are other lower-cost options that could help more people that the county should explore.

“The issue is not whether Kauai needs or wants adolescent drug treatment. There’s no question that we do,” Yukimura said. “If the mayor wants the council’s support, he needs to provide a credible plan, including a financing plan.”

Yukimura said that agreeing to accept the land was premature, but Rapozo did not see it that way.

“If what the administration wants to do doesn’t work out, the land reverts to Grove Farm. To me, it’s no risk, no liability,” Rapozo said. “It’s not a money issue, it’s a priorities issue.”

The mayor assembled a blue ribbon committee of medical and law enforcement officials to work on the adolescent drug-use problem, including Kauai County Prosecutor Justin Kollar, who said treatment options are a key part of the solution.

“There’s no question that our community is battling a very serious drug problem. To win that battle, we as stakeholders will have to work together to provide appropriate treatment venues for our youth,” Kollar said.

Grove Farm Vice President Marissa Sandblom said it was an easy decision to decide to donate the land.

“Grove Farm has been serving this island for over 150 years and we understand the importance of this project to the community at large,” Sandblom said.

The mayor was undeterred by the experience of Neighbor Islands that built facilities, only to later cut funding for their programs and revert to sending patients to Oahu.

“I don’t care if the other islands stopped their programs. This is about our children,” Carvalho said.

The council voted 5-1 to accept the land donation from Grove Farm. Yukimura voted no. Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro recused himself from since he works for Grove Farm, which could cause a potential conflict of interest.

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Ryan Kazmirzack, government reporter, can be reached at 245-0428 or kaz@thegardenisland.com.

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