LIHUE — Council Chair Mel Rapozo said he can’t approve a request to apply for state funds to relocate the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge overlook because of a lack of community participation.
“This is a major project. It’ll shut down the old lookout, and we don’t have an opportunity to get input from the island community,” he said.
But Rapozo was the lone dissenting vote at Wednesday’s County Council meeting. The county administration was given the go-ahead to apply for a $600,000 grant through the Transportation Alternatives Program to move the lookout from its location on Kuhio Highway across the street from the Princeville Center to a new location at the intersection of Kuhio Highway and Ka Haku Road, the main Princeville entrance.
The proposal to relocate the viewpoint originated with the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was able to secure funding to complete design, environmental approvals and land acquisition for a new lookout, said Ka‘aina Hull, deputy director of the county Planning Department.
Inouye wanted to move the lookout because of safety and traffic concerns.
The final price tag of the project is $2.9 million, about $2.2 million already allocated. The county is trying to make up the difference with a TAP grant though the state Department of Transportation.
That would leave less than $100,000 left to raise, which would go for basic site improvements, said Heather Tonneson, leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex project.
“The County of Kauai doesn’t have those funds available, but we are looking at various grant opportunities,” Hull said. “We can apply for this grant to get the project to the finish line.”
The deadline to apply for the TAP grant is June 15. If all goes to plan, construction is slated to begin in fall 2018.
Because the project is a partnership the USFWS and National Park Service, the county is not required to provide manpower, Hull added.
Plans for the new site include two viewpoints, a privacy wall and a perimeter fence that will be closed at night, Tonneson said.
The gates will be closed via an automatic timer, and that’s what Rapozo said he takes issue with.
“I don’t like gates,” he said. “Why should our local people be deprived of opportunities to stop by our view planes and our local landmarks? I think it’s not right.”
The new site would better accommodate the number of visitors that flock to the area, Tonneson said. About 4,500 vehicles visit the site daily, she said.
The proposed viewpoint would be able to accommodate 22 cars.
While Councilmember Mason Chock supports the request, he said he didn’t like being rushed to make a decision.
“These legacy funds have been around for a long time now, and I think I’m disappointed that it’s coming to us so late in this discussion,” he said. “This is not a new item, and from the county standpoint, not a holistic view of how it can truly support the needs of local residents.”
Chock also urged the county to make an effort to hear from the community.
“These things can escalate really quickly if you don’t work with the voices in the community,” he said.
There have been two community meetings about the lookout — one in 2003 and one in 2016.
Another meeting is planned for July, but a date hasn’t been set.