Fix Waimea Traffic! County has the Answer But up until now Has Refused To Do and Chooses Instead To Cater to Special Interests
SUMMARY: For a long time the County has had the answer to in-town Waimea's traffic problem and the funds set aside to do so. The County, however, has repeatedly chosen to ignore the pubic need, bowing instead to special interests --the property owners along the County's Lalamilo connector road corridor. As a result planning for the critically needed Lalamilo Connector Road is still in political cyberspace. Well let's hope the new Kenoi Administration will finally have the spine to stand up to special interests and, with all deliberate speed, move ahead to build this much needed connector road.
TOP PRIORITY ISSUE IN SOUTH KOHALA:The top priority for residents in South Kohala continues to be: “Fix Traffic”. The big problem is there is only one way through Waimea town –through the four way intersection at Mamalahoa Highway and Kawaihae/Lindsey Road. Daily traffic at this intersection grinds to a halt during both morning and afternoon rush hours. The number of accidents is increasing --especially in front of the schools located in the vicinity of this intersection. Daily stalled in the Waimea traffic jam, commuter traffic pays a heavy price in time and gas and auto wear and tear. Surrounding neighborhoods are on the warpath because locals find narrow side roads to skirt some of the standstill traffic. Waimea businesses are hurt because tourists avoid shopping in congested Waimea. Civil defense concerns are obvious. This single intersection is at the crossroad of cross-island traffic from all directions, and is near to important emergency services. In case there is ever a disaster necessitating mass travel from one side of the island to another through this intersection, be forewarned! Just remember the day the Waimea reservoirs breached and flooded this intersection creating an un-crossable lake. Or consider that the Lindsey Road bridge adjacent to this intersection is being held up by jacks because of its dire straits condition. Will we just wait for that bridge to collapse to reckon with the plight of no second way through town from Kawaihae Road?
THE PROBLEM: The bottom line is that given the critical nature of this intersection one would expect the County to have been doing everything possible to locate a road corridor and fund such a critically needed road. NO – just the opposite, that is, at least up until now. For those who are interested in the details of this situation, let me explain.
2005 NEEDED COUNTY ROAD APPEARED ON TRACK: The 2005 Hawaii County General Plan specifically provides the answer to resolve Waimea’s traffic congestion: construct the interlocking Parker Ranch Connector Road and the County’s extension thereof -the Lalamilo Connector Road. The Parker Ranch Connector Road would extend from Mamalahoa Highway at the rodeo grounds around the town center to Pukalani Road and Kamamalu Street. The linking County section would extend from Mamalahoa Highway to Kawaihae Road in the vicinity of the solid waste transfer station. This mini-bypass would create the essential second way though Waimea-town. With regard to funding, based on the 1992 “Waimea Center” Rezoning Ordinance, Parker Ranch was responsible to build its connector road as one of the conditions to the rezoning. The Lalamilo section was to be constructed and funded by the County. An 80 foot wide strip of land was already in place running from the parcel of land just above the Waimea transfer station and running along the northerly boundary of the Lalamilo farmlots . This 80 foot wide road reservation was included in all of the affected deeds. And in 2005 funding to construct this road was available by using a 10 million dollar County bond secured for this purpose (which was then the estimated cost of this road).
THE INTERLINKING PARKER RANCH CONNECTOR ROAD: So what happened to the Parker Ranch Connector Road? The Planning Director, Christopher Yuen, was about to approve Parker Ranch’s Phases 3 and 4 of the Lualai’i subdivision development without requiring any of the Parker Ranch Connector Road to be completed. At the request of one of Parker Ranch’s Trustees, the Planning Director did just the opposite by seeking to amend the County General Plan (thereby eliminating the Plan mandate that this road be constructed). We were able to block this County's effort on behalf of Parker Ranch, and this road construction mandate remains in the County General Plan. Finally in 2007, on behalf of two Waimea residents I filed a legal action against the County for failure to enforce the Parker Ranch ordinance condition requiring that this road be constructed concurrent with related development. The day before the first hearing was to be held a settlement was reached with Parker Ranch so that all of its connector road triggered by the Lualai’i development would be completed by May of 2010. That road is now under construction and is expected to be completed by May of next year.
THE STATUS OF THE COUNTY’S LALAMILO CONNECTOR ROAD: Now why isn’t the County’s Lalamilo Connector under construction by now? Well even though construction of this road appeared to be on track and it should have been completed by now, the planning phase of this road was completely derailed.
THE PET CONSTITUENCY/NIMBY PROBLEM: To put it simply, things happen when pet constituencies (special interests) don’t want something, and those in power cater to those pet constituencies with total disregard for the well being of the other 99% of the County’s residents. So, whose interests are being catered to, or in other words, that is whose property is adjacent to the designated road corridor:
1. Northerly most Lalamilo lots which are subject to an 80 foot wide road dedication reservation. Decades ago, when these 20 acre lots were sold by the State for crop farming, in the deeds this 80 foot strip was specifically set aside as a road reservation. With respect to the Lalamilo lots, it is important to note these lots are not all currently being used for crop farming – as was the original intent. In fact some Lalamilo lot owners are in the process of petitioning DLNR to remove the deed restriction requiring that these lots be limited to agricultural crop uses. It is also important to note that farmers on the east side of Waimea are daily hurt by the road congestion, and do not support the Lalamilo lot owners’ opposition to this road.
2. Parker Ranch Land: Immediately on the other side of the road corridor is Parker Ranch land.
A.) Parker Ranch’s Puuoplu parcel: The so-called Puuopelu parcel is located adjacent to the Lalamilo lots. A portion of this parcel has been subdivided into “estate lots” but have not yet been developed or sold. The land immediately adjacent to the road corridor, however, has not been developed or subdivided.
B.) Parker Ranch’s Sandalwood Subdivision: Additionally there are several lots along the westerly edge of Parker Ranch’s Sandalwood subdivision that abut this road corridor: This subdivision was developed by Parker Ranch long after the road corridor was located on the adjoining state land.
So the key “pet” constituencies are these Lalamilo lot owners and Parker Ranch. (Now understandably any aspiring politician would think twice before taking a position opposed to Parker Ranch and a well organized group of farm lot owners.) And so, not one inch of this proposed road corridor has been approved and the start of construction in beyond the horizon. This situation is particularly sad because this road project could easily have been eligible for federal stimulus funding.
SUMMARY OF THE ACTIONS/NONACTIONS TAKEN TO DATE: The following is a summary of what decisions (or non-decisions) have been made about this road since 2005:
1. Because of Lalamilo lot owners’ concern about the proximity of the road to agricultural activities, the County has voiced intent to realign this road northerly onto the adjoining Parker Ranch land, with the taxpayers picking up the significant additional expense, and the benefiting lot owners not expected to cover any of the cost road cost.
2. THE BIG BUFFER SCHEME: The Lalamilo lot owners have been lobbying for an enormous “buffer” area to be located between their lots and the roadway. Having failed to achieve support for requiring a large buffer requirement in the State Legislature, these landowners obtained a letter of recommendation from the Department of Agriculture for an enormous buffer, to wit 800 – 1000 feet of buffer. The sole justification for that width buffer was the manufacturer’s instruction sheet provided with pesticides for aerial spraying of sugar cane up wind of certain highly sensitive activities. [Well we know there is not sugar cane plantations at Lalamilo and there is no aerial spraying there, and the farming activities would not be upwind of the road. The one glimmer of reason, concerning the need for this buffer, occurred at an Open Space Public Access meeting where the Lalamilo lot owners were also protesting this road and the need for a jumbo buffer zone. A committee member responded as follows: Look we have agriculture and roads co-existing all over this island. I not sure why that can’t happen in Waimea.
3. THE LALAMILO CONNECTOR ROAD E.A. ENDLESS DELAY SCHEME: The $400,000. Environmental Assessment study that should have been completed by Belt Collins years ago is still on the drawing board. Not long ago we heard this report would finally be completed by March of this year. But now another delay. The reason for the current delay is that the affected Lalamilo lot owners are refusing to participate in an additional “Buffer Risk” study being undertaken for their benefit. The purpose of this additional study was to determine the appropriate size and design of buffer to be located between the proposed roadway and the agricultural fields on the Lalamilo lots. The parameters of that study were designed with the approval of the State Department of Agriculture. Last I heard, County Public Works had sent a letter to the State Department of Agriculture to provide any possible information concerning agricultural uses on the affected Lalamilo lots. The Department of Agriculture was to respond by April 20, 2009. I am unaware of any response to date.
4. PREVIOUS STALLING OF THE LALAMILO CONNECTOR ROAD E.A. This Environmental Assessment study was also previously stalled on several occasions. At one point the County engaged a different consultant to determine if there were not in fact some alternative route or means to address Waimea’s traffic. The E.A. was halted. Finally at a cost of some $200,000 plus, this other consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoof – P.B. America, determined what was obvious to many of us: that both the Parker Ranch and the Lalamilo Road were essential to resolving Waimea’s traffic problem, and given the quantity of in-town traffic, even if the State Bypass is eventually constructed, the Lalamilo connector roads would still be necessary.
5. REMOVE THE ROAD RESERVATION SCHEME: The most recent action by these Lalamilo lot owners to derail this critically need road project is still in progress. They have hired a Honolulu attorney to assist them in petitioning the BLNR to remove the road reservation in their deeds. By doing so, if the road were to still be built the cost would rise dramatically because additional high priced land would have to be purchased from Parker Ranch to make up for the no longer includable 80 foot width. And I am ashamed to say that the South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee has bowed to the urging of this pet constituency, and in total disregard of traffic safety concerns, given its support to the Lalamilo lot owners anti-road petition to BLNR. [You can be sure this committee is not comprised of those who travel any long distance and have to slug it out day after day through the Waimea congestion]
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE COUNTY’S BUFFER STUDY: What response would you expect from Hawaii County regarding the lot owners refusal to participate in the buffer study being conducted for their benefit? Well one would presume the appropriate response would be to give these lot owners a reasonable amount of time in which to respond to the consultant’s questions, and advise them that failure to respond would be interpreted as meaning no road buffer is needed for their lot. So far the County has not adopted this position. Bottom line is get this study done and finish the environmental assessment and proceed with designing this road.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE BLNR PETITION TO REMOVE THE ROAD RESERVATION FROM THE LALAMILO DEEDS: And what would you expect from the State regarding the Lalamilo lot owners’ BLNR petition to remove the 80 foot road reservation from their deeds? Presumably the State’s response will be a resounding “NO”. We will find out soon enough.
IN CONCLUSION --LET US HOPE: In sum, what I am encouraging is a more balanced approach. We need County leadership that can move this community forward to an appropriate balance of the public interest and the private benefits and burdens. One does not need to be black and white in resolving this situation. The answer seems pretty simple: we need the road ASAP, and a reasonable buffer strip can be designed and constructed as part of this important alternative route through Waimea. IT IS TIME TO STOP CATERING TO SPECIAL INTERESTS AND GET THIS ROAD BUILT!
^A melodious thrush and some other residents from Waimea