By ERIN MILLER
The state Department of Transportation still doesn’t have a start date for the next leg of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening project.
Caroline Sluyter, DOT’s spokeswoman, said the department remains in a holding pattern.
“It’s just that same process we’re trying to work out,” Sluyter said.
That process consists of federally mandated consultation with Native Hawaiians to address cultural concerns before construction begins. Sluyter declined to provide additional details about the consultation process, and has consistently refused to discuss the issues that are holding up any progress. DOT officials told Stephens Media last year construction would begin in September, but backed away from that announcement about a month later.
Asked if the department thought the project might not be completed after all, Sluyter said, “We’re still hopeful the project will go forward.”
One of the Native Hawaiians involved in the process, Fred Cachola, last year told West Hawaii Today he wanted to see the state take on a comprehensive study of the impacts of all development in Hawaii on Hawaiians and their culture. Contacted most recently in November, Cachola refused to answer any more questions about what he saw as appropriate mitigation for the construction project, and hung up on a West Hawaii Today reporter. The cellphone number Cachola previously used was not working Friday.
Sluyter was not able to provide on Friday any more names of groups involved in the consultation process.
Goodfellow Bros. won the contract to build the $76 million project from Kealakehe Parkway to Kona International Airport. Regional Manager Ed Brown on Friday said he worries about two things as the delay drags on.
“I’m just concerned how long (the state will) wait before (the federal government) pulls the funding,” Brown said. “I don’t know what their threshold is.”
The other worry, he said, is for local workers.
“It’s a big job,” Brown said. “It would really help the Big Island.”
Brown said some of the subcontractors Goodfellow Bros. uses were counting on the state project to keep them working during the recession.
DOT officials keep him apprised of the situation, although the details of the ongoing consultation process can be “sensitive,” Brown added.
It’s been more than four years since the DOT first attempted to award the phase 2 contract. A series of challenges to the bidding and award process delayed the award for two years, until 2010. When the DOT cleared those hurdles, DOT officials reported inadvertent archaeological finds of some kind near the project’s southern end, near Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park.
A Native Hawaiian hui approached the DOT with concerns about those inadvertent cultural finds, officials told West Hawaii Today in fall 2011. The construction start date was pushed back from May 2011 to mid-November, then to April 2012, then to August or September.
Email Erin Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.