Wednesday | October 18, 2017
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NELHA road project advances

A final environmental assessment released last week found no significant impacts to a proposed project that aims to improve access from the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority to Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Kona International Airport.

The assessment, released Tuesday, showed that determination was made by NELHA, a quasi-public agency of the state that administers the 870-acre Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park at Keahole Point in North Kona. NELHA and the state Department of Transportation are proposing several internal connector roads “to maintain and create connectivity between NELHA/HOST Park and regional transportation facilities,” according to the assessment, which did not include a cost estimate for the project.

In a letter sent last year by the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service, the agency expressed concerns about the Blackburn sphinx moth, which may breed and feed in the project area, and possible degradation to nearby anchialine pools.

“A survey was performed in March 2014 and no evidence of the moth or plants integral to its life cycle were found,” according to the assessment.” … The water quality of these pools is regularly monitored as part of NELHA’s Comprehensive Environmental Monitoring Plan which includes samples from over 120 sites every 90 days. In addition, NELHA conducts a Biota survey offshore on an annual basis. Over the past 19 years, the sampling and surveys have not shown any negative impact on the groundwater or ocean water off NELHA.”

The first phase of the project, anticipated to be done in the next decade, is a road to connect with Kaiminani Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway. It includes constructing a nearly 1-mile frontage road north of Makako Bay Drive; extending Kaiminani Drive and creating a four-way signalized intersection at Queen Kaahumanu Highway; and connecting planned arterial roadways to Kona International Airport. The second phase is not projected to occur until roughly 2035, will provide direct connections to Kona International Airport, where state officials are planning major overhauls in the next few years, as well as eventually signalize Makako Bay Drive at Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

“A major purpose is to mitigate the impacts of the planned Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project on NELHA/HOST Park,” according to the assessment. “That project will convert the Queen Kaahumanu Highway — Makako Bay Drive intersection into a right-turn in and out only intersection, severely limiting access to HOST Park and NELHA in general unless the improvements to the regional transportation system are made.”

Unresolved issues pertaining to this project include the timing and coordination of the proposed improvements “primarily due to the unknown timing of improvements to Queen Kaahumanu Highway in the area,” the assessment stated.

Planning for the first phase of this project began several years ago, when state DOT officials announced Makako Bay Drive, the only entrance for NELHA and its tenants, would become a right-in, right-out drive upon completion of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project.

Such a plan would force NELHA tenants to drive south from the complex, complete a U-turn and then head north to reach Kona International Airport to ship products. The airport and NELHA are directly next to each other. Northbound drivers trying to enter NELHA would have to pass the entrance and make a U-turn at the airport.

The full final environmental assessment is available to be downloaded from the Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Quality Control website,

Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at


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