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Bats, shearwater delay tree project

KILAUEA — A $3.5 million project aimed at removing 2,500 albizia trees along Kuhio Highway between Kalihiwai and Kahiliholo roads was pushed back to next year.

The project, originally scheduled for April, was suspended as tree removal coincided with the birthing season of the Hawaiian hoary bat and the breeding season of the Hawaiian shearwater.

“Work has been temporarily stopped right now for the hoary bat season and then right after that will be the shearwater season,” said Tim Sakahara, Department of Transportation spokesman. “The cutting of the albizia trees will not resume again until early January of next year.”

The invasive trees along a 1.1-mile stretch of Kuhio Highway on the North Shore are set for removal next January, before the birthing and breeding seasons of the two endangered species.

Sakahahra said the DOT will remove the bulk of the trees in a six-month span.

“We said the 18-month time frame before, but because of the sensitivity with the bats and the shearwater, we are going to try and get that done quickly,” he said. “They’re hoping to do the bulk of the cutting and work during January and June. They’re hoping to get all that done before next year’s season.”

Yoshito L’Hote, Kilauea Neighborhood Association president, said “the government works slow,” but is thorough.

“Unfortunately for all of us, they have to do diligence to every single little thing, which means they have to follow the rules,” he said. “They’re not able to move the way we would like them to move or they would like to move. It’s not their desire to drag the project down.”

L’Hote said, however, that he’s happy the DOT answered the community’s concern by scheduling the tree-removal project at night.

L’Hote said a 10-minute shutdown of the highway creates a line of cars so long that it takes 30 minutes to clear.

“We’ve experienced (it), and it’s been pretty hellacious and it’s really impacted negatively the businesses in Hanalei and Princeville,” he said.

Albizia trees were introduced to the islands in the early 1900s from Indonesia to restore Hawaii forests. They grow 20 feet their first year and up to 120 feet in their lifetime.

“Because they grow very fast, they can get brittle and can break easier than other trees — add in the fact that it’s an invasive species,” Sakahara said. “The last thing we want is branches or limbs to fall onto a highway and block access or cause an accident.”

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