KEAHUOLU, Hawaii – The proposed critical habitat designation for lands in Kealakehe has chased away the planned Kona Judiciary Complex.
The much needed complex was originally slated to occupy “site G” (see map below) – state lands across from the West Hawaii Civic Center and next to the Kona’s planned regional park complex. Now, the complex will move south to Site F, a 10 acre parcel in Keahuolū known as the Makalapua Center site for its proximity to the sizable shopping development.
A judiciary media release blamed the change on an endangered tree.
|…during the extended due diligence process, an endangered ‘uhi ‘uhi plant was discovered in an adjacent part of the larger parcel in which Site G was located, which necessitated that another site be selected. Sites F and G were among several sites evaluated during the environmental impact review for the project.|
However, a greater cloud hangs over the Kealakehe area. In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to create critical habitat for three plant species on 18,766 acres in North Kona, spread out over seven units.
On of those units – Unit 35 – would be smack-dab in the middle of Kealakehe, which is leading Kona as the center of urban development. This proposed critical habitat unit envelopes the judiciary’s site G, and the planned regional park. It also includes Forest City’s Kamakana Villages project and the Hawaiian Homelands’ Villages of La’i’opua.
The proposed critical habitat unit in Kealakehe also includes Queen Liliuokalani Trust land. The judiciary now plans to move to candidate site F, which happens to be QLT land.
May 2013 – Kona critical habitat plan draws criticism
According to the Final EIS, which evaluated site F along with all the other candidate sites, the QLT property is across Makala Boulevard from the Makalapua Center (which is to the south) at 74-5475 Kamaka’eha Avenue. The 10-acre site is vacant and is bordered by other vacant lands to the north and the east and Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway to the west. The site has elevations ranging from 120 to 150 feet above sea level, and has an average slope of 5.5% from east to west. The terrain is mostly composed of Punalu’u extremely rocky peat. The site is located four and one-half (4.5) miles south of Kalaoa and less than one (1) mile north of Kailua-Kona urban area. The construction of the project will appear as an extension of the existing urban development.
Strangely, the same part of the EIS that identified rare or native plants on the now abandoned site in Kealakehe also identified rare or native plants on the Makalapua Center site. Both sites were given a rating of POOR for the Botanical and Wildlife Resources criterion.
The EIS stated that if Site F were to to be chosen as the project site, “archaeological monitoring is highly recommended during any construction-related ground disturbance to mitigate the potential for affecting subsurface historic properties within this site.”
Judiciary officials say the change won’t impact the construction timetable and budget for the project significantly, since the design work that has been undertaken so far can be utilized at the new site.