NELHA seeking environmental approval for road projects


Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority officials are looking two decades down the road with a draft environmental assessment for several internal connector roads.

The assessment, released Tuesday, said officials with the quasi-public agency expect a finding of no significant impact for the road projects, which will be done in two phases. The first phase is a road to connect with Kaiminani Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway, the second will provide direct connections to Kona International Airport, where state officials are planning major overhauls in the next few years.

The latter portion of the project is not expected to happen until 2035, the assessment said.

Despite the NELHA officials’ position that the project should not create a significant impact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in an April 2013 letter, that the endangered Blackburn’s sphinx moth may breed and feed in the project area. Officials with the federal agency also expressed concerns that additional development in the area could threaten anchialine pools.

The draft environmental assessment addressed those concerns, noting a survey will be done for the moths prior to the completion of the final environmental assessment.

At the Department of Land and Natural Resources State Historic Preservation Division’s request, additional archaeological studies “will be performed on the sites that are made accessible to development by NELHA’s internal roadway network,” the assessment said.

No cost estimate for either portion of the project was included in the draft assessment. Planning for the first phase began several years ago, when state Department of Transportation officials announced that Makako Bay Drive, the only entrance for the energy lab 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.

“This situation would have a significantly negative economic impact on NELHA and HOST Park tenants, hinder marketing efforts to attract new tenants to HOST Park, promote congestion and reduce safety at the intersections where U-turns are made, and inconvenience motorists utilizing Makako Bay Drive,” the draft assessment said. “As NELHA/HOST Park develops the number of heavy vehicles will increase, escalating the problems associated with the right-turn in/right-turn-out situation. In addition, as NELHA develops HOST Park the resulting travel demand will exceed the capacity of the current, unsignalized Makako Bay Drive — Queen Kaahumanu Highway intersection.”

Consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff will accept comments on the draft assessment through May 8. To submit comments, mail them to PB Americas Inc., 1001 Bishop St., Suite 2400, Honolulu, HI 96813, and to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Highway, No. 101, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740-2637.

The full assessment is available to be downloaded from the Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Quality Control website, oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/default.aspx. Follow the links for the EA and EIS Online Library, Hawaii, then 2010s. The documents are in chronological order.

Email Erin Miller at emiller@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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