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Commentary – National Park Service & Queen Kaahumanu Highway Frontage Road

The Kona Community Development Plan has a frontage road going from Honokohau Harbor to Kona Int’l Airport alongside Queen Kaahumanu Highway. One of the segments is completed, and another should be completed within the next three months. These are being constructed by NELHA and the Kohanaiki Shores development.

Aerial View of Kaloko Fishpond at Kaloko-Honokohau National Park

The three remaining unfinished roadway segments go through Hawaii Department of Transportation, privately owned, and Kaloko-Honokohau National Park lands. One of these landowners, the National Park Service, will pose a challenge to completing the entire frontage road. They’ve stated a road can’t bisect the park because it will negatively impact the park’s resources.

I respect the National Park Service’s concerns, but extending this roadway between Kohanaiki Shores to Kealakehe Parkway could be a win-win for the park and the community. If this road is constructed, it will eventually give the community an alternative route between the airport and Honokohau Harbor.

This road will also help in traffic circulation and provide an alternative route if there is a traffic accident on Queen Kaahumanu Highway. It will also help the National Park Service by providing better accessibility to park resources and allow them to do more interpretive outreach with park visitors. This would be particularly effective if this proposed roadway follows the alignment of the Ala Mamalahoa Trail through the park.

The National Park Service’s opposition towards this roadway extension can’t be understated, but I propose these following conditions to allay their longstanding concerns. The roadway segment going through the National Park would limited to two lanes with narrow shoulders to reduce its footprint on the sensitive historical resources.  In addition, a thorough analysis of these potential alignments should be conducted. The alignment with the least impact on historical and environmental resources should be selected.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Guest Commentary – Public Works Director Decides to Retire… Management Style Didn’t Work

Frank DeMarco, the current Hawaii County Public Works director, has decided to retire.

Frank DeMarco

This action allows Mayor Kim to select a new director for this key county department. I hope he selects someone with a strong rapport with the public and won’t treat concerned citizens, such as myself, like an enemy of the state.

Mr. DeMarco has a military background, and tried to run this critical department as a military unit with a chain of command structure. His management style obviously didn’t work very well and caused a lot of unnecessary issues. I was caught in the cross hairs of one of his ill advised decisions, which restricted me from communicating with anyone in the county public works department. I was able to get this directive somewhat amended, so I could at least go through the county public works public information officer. If this effort was unsuccessful, I’d be required to submit all inquires via postal mail directly to the mayor’s office.

The Department of Public Works is a key part of county government.  They’re responsible for approving building permits, and maintaining our roadway infrastructure.  It is imperative that the new director to be transparent and have strong rapport with the public at large. Anything less would go against Mayor Kim’s campaign pledge to bring trust and integrity to county government.

Aaron Stene

Commentary – Mayor Kim’s Administration Has Made Me Very Discouraged

Mayor Harry Kim’s administration has been in office roughly six months. The way I’ve been treated over this period of time has been nothing short of abysmal, and made me very discouraged about interacting with his administration about transportation issues. It isn’t very appealing to get a phone call from the mayor directly, who proceeds to yell at you over the phone and state that you don’t have the facts straight.

I would let this go if this was my only issue with Mayor Kim,  but it is not. February 6th, 2017 is a day I’ll remember for a very long time. The new Department of Public  Works director Frank DeMarco issued a sweeping  directive against me that stated I cannot talk to anyone at DPW, and would have submit all inquiries directly to the mayor’s office in writing.

I was able to get this directive somewhat amended, so I could go through the DPW public affairs officer. This made a very difficult situation more palatable, but I still couldn’t talk to the front line engineers that I established relationships with. Some of these engineers I’ve known for 10 years or more. As of a result of this ill-advised directive, I can’t communicate with these engineers going forward.

These actions by Frank DeMarco are a stark example that he intends to ignore public feedback regarding transportation issues. Warren Lee, the previous director, welcomed feedback from the public. He went as so far to take me on a tour of the construction of the Mamalahoa Highway bypass at one point.

I’ve helped DPW advance several West Hawaii transportation projects, which has established a favorable track record with these engineers. However, Frank DeMarco stated at council meeting on April 11th that I was making too many inquiries with DPW staff, which was causing problems for DPW and other county departments. This could be farther from the truth, along with being very hurtful.

I’ve lived in here Kailua-Kona over 41 years, and have had only the community’s best interest at heart.  These issues with Mayor Kim’s administration are far and beyond the biggest challenge that I’ve faced with a government entity. We should be working together to make this a better place as I have a lot to offer, but Mayor Kim’s administration insists on treating me like an enemy of the state instead.

Aaron Stene, Kailua-Kona

Editors note – Clip taken from the DPW Homepage. http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/public-works/

Commentary – Mayor’s Administration Has Taken Action Against Me

Mayor Harry Kim ran on a platform of transparency, and restoring trust in county government. Nonetheless,  his administration has taken action against me, which goes against those campaign promises.

The problems started on February 6th, 2017 when the Department of Public Works director Frank DeMarco sent me an official e-mail stating that I cannot communicate with anyone in the Department of Public Works going forward. Mr. DeMarco also states all further inquiries from me have to be sent to the mayor’s office through postal mail. This e-mail was disseminated to all DPW managerial staff, and to the mayor’s secretary.I was able to get  that  part rescinded, so I could go through DPW’s public information officer for any future inquiries. This somewhat addressed the issue at hand, but not completely. This directive made it impossible to provide feedback about future county highway projects.

In addition,  I still couldn’t communicate with front line engineers,  or division heads. I’ve established relationships with these individuals that  have lasted ten or more years in some cases. These individuals have always appreciated my efforts to report traffic signal and pothole issues, along with my assistance with getting various highway projects completed.

DPW Director DeMarco has painted a different picture of my efforts, which he stated in recent testimony to the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee on April 11th. He stated that I was making too many inquiries with DPW staff, which was causing issues for DPW and other county departments.

This statement doesn’t make any sense whatsoever based upon the positive feedback I’ve received from public works  staff over the years. This is why I believe  this directive is smokescreen for the real reason why I’ve been treated this way. Mayor Kim simply doesn’t welcome, or want, feedback from from community.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary: Mayor Harry Kim… I Wasn’t Being Overly Vexatious

Dear Mayor Harry Kim,

I received your response to my letter dated February 8th, 2017 regarding the Department of Public Works directive issued against me. I have a very good memory of what happened over the past two months since you began your term. Most of my inquiries went through the DPW public affairs officer, but I did e-mail the highway and traffic division heads about highway and traffic signal issues. Both individuals have repeatedly told me how appreciative they’re of my efforts. In addition, I e-mailed Ben Ishii about an issue with the Mamalahoa Highway Bypass.

Click to read newspaper article

The only other communications involved e-mailing Frank DeMarco and Allan Simeon. I e-mailed Frank twice; once with a list of of eight projects I’d like to see happen in North Kona, the other was a letter to the editor I submitted regarding Highway 11 issues (This was the same day he issued that directive against me). I also tried to get in touch with Allan Simeon regarding Ane K. Highway Phase III since I didn’t get a favorable response from Frank DeMarco.

This is why I called up Roy Takemoto, your executive assistant. I expressed my desire to help your administration to get roadway projects completed, along with my desire to get Ane K. Highway Phase III started. The latter is why I also e-mailed the county planning director since the Kona CDP Action Committee had omitted this project from a list of desired North Kona CIP projects.

As you can see I wasn’t being overly vexatious with my inquiries with DPW, so it was really hurtful what you said in that newspaper article. I felt like the bus ran over me several times after reading what you said. Its like your administration doesn’t want feedback from community, especially from me.

I’ve developed a strong rapport with several public works employees over the years. As a result of this directive, I can’t talk to them any further. They were equally shocked this directive was issued against me, especially in light of my positive track record. As it stands now, all my inquiries have to go through the DPW public affairs officer going forward.

The offer I made to Roy Takemoto to assist your administration with various highway projects in North Kona still stands, despite the events of the past month. I want to work with your administration to make these projects a reality.

Sincerely,

Aaron Stene

Commentary: Consequences of HB1586 – Relating to Taxation

There will be unintended consequences if HB1586 passes, especially if the disbursement of transit accommodation tax revenue to the counties is eliminated. The County of Hawaii receives 19.5 million dollars in TAT funds. This is their second highest funding
source after property taxes.

The TAT revenue source is used to the mitigate the impact of tourism industry on each county. I firmly believe the residents of each county shouldn’t have to pay entire cost for lifeguard, police, fire, etc services used by these tourists.

The elimination of this funding source will force the county to increase taxes on all property classes, not just on properties owned by wealthy off island homeowners. This will undoubtedly passed on to homeowners, who rent out to individuals (and families) with lower incomes.

These individuals (and families) would be seeing relief in state taxes, but they’ll be seeing higher rental costs as a result. These folks are living on the edge and can ill afford to pay more for rental housing.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Serious Roadway Safety Issues on Highway 11

There are serious roadway safety issues on Highway 11 between Kuakini Highway/Queen Kaahumanu Highway Extension intersection and Hawaii Ocean View Estates. First and foremost, the asphalt pavement is in dire need of being resurfaced for most of this highway. Both the HDOT and Hawaii County are responsible for maintenance, which they’ve done a poor job over the years.

The poor condition of the pavement of pales in comparison to a much larger issue though. There is serious roadway design deficiencies on the Highway 11 between Captain Cook and Hawaiian Ocean View Estates. These design deficiencies are amplified by a serious speeding issue  that has resulted in many car accidents and fatalities.

I believe HDOT, and to a lesser degree Hawaii County, need to take action to improve Highway 11. Firstly, both departments need to evaluate the condition of the asphalt pavement, and formulate a multi-year plan to resurface this highway. The HDOT also should evaluate what safety improvements are possible between Captain Cook and Hawaii Ocean View Estates.

There is a lot of sharp turns in between Ho’okena and Miloli’i, a distance of 15 miles, that will require the reconstruction of this segment of Highway 11.  These safety improvements should include an expanded shoulder pull off areas. This will aid the police in enforcing the speed limit, especially since there is a lot of people who drive
like they’re on the Indy 500.

There is a underlying issue to the chronic speeding though. These scofflaws are stuck are in traffic between Henry Street and Kamehameha III Road, so they speed to get home quicker. This why these safety improvements won’t be complete unless the widening of Queen Kaahumanu Highway Extension/Kuakini Highway proceeds.

These safety improvements won’t come cheap. This is why the legislature needs to allocate enough funding to the HDOT, so they can maintain their existing inventory of roads and add capacity.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Ane Keohokālole Highway Phase III Should Be Top Transportation Project

Ane Keohokālole Highway Phase III should be top transportation project for Hawaii County in North Kona. This segment will connect Hina-Lani Street to Kaminani Drive, so we’ll be able to drive from Henry Street to Kona Palisades without having to use Mamalahoa or Queen Kaahumanu highways.

Much attention was paid to honoring the culture and the place in building the Ane Keohokālole Highway. Markers indicate the boundaries of the ahupua‘a that the road runs through, like this one where Keahuolū meets Kealakehe.

This will help address chronic traffic circulation issues prevalent in this area. Its frustrating to see  the horrible traffic congestion on Highway 190, especially in the mornings and afternoon at Hina-Lani Street intersection. The intersection at Kaiminani Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway is  another traffic congestion hot spot. Both of  these issues will be addressed if the county proceeds with Phase III of Ane Keohokālole Highway.

There has been some discussion about resurrecting the Alii Parkway
project in light of the completionof the Alii Drive Extension (Mamalahoa Highway bypass) instead of proceeding with Ane Keohokālole Highway. I strongly believe this would be a huge mistake. Hawaii County has spent decades and untold millions of dollars to construct this road with nothing to show for it. I highly doubt the lingering archaeological issues will ever be resolved, especially with the renewed focus on preserving sensitive Native Hawaiian archaeological sites.

The Hawaii DOT has started preliminary planing to widen  Queen Kaahumanu Highway Extension (from Henry Street) and  Kuakini Highway past Kamehameha III Road, which should adequately address the ongoing congestion issues in this area.

I hope Mayor Kim’s administration decides to proceed with Ane Keohokālole Highway Phase III instead of Alii Parkway. The latter project divided the community  when the county tried to proceed around 13 years ago.  Ane Keohokālole Highway Phase III is a better choice for the community.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Stene’s Disappointed With Big Island State Legislators

I’m very disappointed with our Big Island state legislators. They haven’t responded to any of  my emails, which expressed concern about the Hawaii DOT’s decision  to defer all new state highway projects. State Senator Josh Green was the only legislator that truly acknowledged my concerns about the DOT’s shortsighted decision.

Highway 130 Widening

There is several proposed highway projects in both east and west Hawaii that are  affected by this  deferment, such as the widening of Highway 130 in Puna, and the Saddle  Road Extension in South Kohala. However, there hasn’t been much public push back  as far as I’ve seen, especially from our island’s state legislators.

I strongly believe they should take a stronger stance against the Department of Transportation  in this matter. If DOT continues to allocate 90% of their budgetary resources towards system preservation, this will result in less construction jobs, and more traffic congestion on our island’s highways over the long term.
These profound negative impacts will stifle economic growth on the Big Island.  This should concern our state legislators, as I strongly believe we should continue to invest in our island’s our transportation infrastructure.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – DOT Decision Will Have Negative Impact on Traffic and Construction Industry

I’m deeply concerned about the Hawaii Department of Transportation’s decision to focus entirely on system preservation, and deferring new highway projects for the next 20 years. This decision will have a negative impact on traffic congestion, and the health of
Hawaii’s construction industry.

Saddle Road Extension

Saddle Road Extension

There is several highway improvement projects on both sides of the Big Island (Waimea mini-bypass, Saddle Road Extension, Highway 130 widening, etc) that are slated for deferral as a result of this decision. These proposed projects will help improve traffic flow, and employ a significant amount construction workers over the life these projects.

The decision to focus solely on system preservation projects will likely employ less construction workers, and won’t help mitigate traffic congestion. This is an extremely shortsighted decision, as a balance between system preservation and adding capacity needs to be found.

HDOT asserts they need more funding to do their mission. They need to sell this to the public at large. For example, they have to come up with a 20% of  the cost of  new highway to qualify for the 80%  FHWA match, which has put system preservation on the back burner.

I also propose HDOT do away with the weight tax, and replace it with a vehicle registration tax, which would be based upon how old the vehicle is. In addition, they need to increase the gasoline tax, and find a way to assess a fee on hybrid/electric vehicles that use less gasoline. These vehicles are not paying their fair share to use our highways.

HDOT’s decision to arbitrarily reallocate more money to the system preservation over more capacity is extremely unwise. The population of our state will continue to increase over the next 20 years, so new highways will have to be constructed to improve our transportation infrastructure.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Highway Legislation Was to Appease Constituents

Senator Lorraine Inouye was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation
that would increase the speed  limit on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway to 60MPH between m.m 12 and m.m 51 -except for the segment by Mauna Kea State Park.

Inouye Highway 2 by Aaron Stene

I had reservations about this bill because HDOT should  have sole authority to set highway speed limits. The state legislature shouldn’t be politicizing what the highway speeds are on a certain highway.

I e-mailed Senator Inouye’s office three amendments to SB2375 despite my reservations. The first amendment would change the east side start of the speed limit increase from m.m 19 to m.m 12.  This change was included in the final bill transmitted to the governor. However, she disregarded  the other two amendments I suggested.

These proposed amendments would’ve obligated the HDOT to review the current speed limits at m.m 18, m.m 36-40, amd m.m 39, and increased the speed limit on m.m 6 to m.m 11 segment after the highway is improved to Federal Highway standards by August 27, 2017.

Senator Inouye stated this bill wouldn’t pass the legislature if these
amendments were added, which doesn’t make any sense. She didn’t want to infringe on the HDOT’s obligation to follow Federal Highway standards. I pointed out to her that requiring the HDOT increase the speed limit on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway already infringed on the HDOT’s obligations, so her argument doesn’t hold water.

I strongly believe the sole purpose of this legislation was to appease
her constituents, who probably complained about the county police’s
incessant speed traps up on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway. This proposed legislation shouldn’t be the way the speed limits are set up there.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary: East Hawaii vs. West Hawaii – Paradigm Changed After Kenoi was Elected

I don’t think it would be wise to split Hawaii County into two counties. Yes, West Hawaii does pay 70% of the property taxes. However, this disparity is due in part to the value of the homes being higher on the west side versus the east side. In other words, West Hawaii homeowners are subsidizing the lower property taxes paid from East Hawaii residents.

Hawaii in Half

This was a bone of contention during Mayor Harry Kim’s eight years in office. West Hawaii paid most of the property taxes, but got very little in return between 2000-2008. The paradigm changed after Mayor Billy Kenoi was elected in 2008. His administration brought West Hawaii back into the fold by constructing needed infrastructure improvements, and by bringing county government closer to the residents living in West Hawaii.

This is a non-inclusive list of these infrastructure improvements completed between 2008 and 2016 by Mayor Kenoi’s administration; West Hawaii Civic Center, La’aloa Avenue Extension, Mamalahoa Highway bypass, Kaiminani Drive rehabilitation phases 1 & 2, Makalei Fire Station, Ane Keohokalole Highway, etc. Mayor Harry Kim’s track record was less than stellar.

His administration dropped the  ball with Ali’i Parkway, and failed to address burgeoning traffic issues on the west side. The only noteworthy project started in West Hawaii during Mayor Kim’s term was the realignment of the Kealaka’a Street intersection.

Mayor Kenoi’s administration has thoroughly addressed that burgeoning west side traffic congestion issue, and has largely put to rest any talk of splitting Hawaii County. However, this issue has started to percolate to surface again due to upcoming election, and because Mayor Kenoi’s term is ending at the end of this year.

There is at least one current mayoral candidate, who believes splitting the county into two would be wise. I believe this would be huge mistake.

Hawaii County currently receives 18% of the yearly Federal Highways fund allotment, and $19.2 million dollars in transient accommodation tax revenue. If another county is conceived, these funds would have to be shared. On top of that, it would establish a new layer of unneeded government bureaucracy on this island I firmly believe we should stay one county, instead of splitting into two. We have to help each other, especially since we’re so isolated from the rest of the world.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Poor Job Handling TMT Protestors

Governor Ige’s administration, and to a lesser extent, the County of Hawaii, are doing a poor job handling the ongoing Thirty Meter Telescope protests on Mauna Kea. The governor’s proposed changes to the stewardship of Mauna Kea offended both the protesters and the individuals who’ve helped preserve this sensitive area.

TMT laserThe protesters  were mainly unhappy the governor reaffirmed the TMT’s legal right to begin construction, but there were other aspects of the revised stewardship plan the protesters were not pleased about. They were also unhappy the removal of ¼ of all the existing telescopes and imposing access restrictions to the summit area, among other issues

The governor’s stewardship changes also offended the individuals who’ve helped preserve Mauna Kea. It was  like a slap to the face when the governor stated the University of Hawaii and Department of Land and Natural Resources have been poor stewards of  Mauna Kea. There were issues with the stewardship of Mauna Kea in the past. However, there has been immeasurable improvements over the past 15 years. The execution of the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan in 2010 was one of the highlights of these recent improvements.

Governor Ige’s administration also dropped the ball as far as dealing with these ongoing Thirty Meter Telescope protests. His administration has allowed these protesters to illegally encamp at Hale Pohaku for the past three months and obstruct access to the summit area. Yes, these protesters have a constitutionally protected right to protest, but they shouldn’t break the law in the process.

The elephant the room is the ongoing Hawaii sovereignty debate. The latter has Trojan horsed itself into the current debate over the Thirty Meter Telescope. The State and County of Hawaii are playing softball with these groups as a result. For example, the Hawaii County prosecutor is considering dropping criminal trespass charges against the first wave of 21 protesters in lieu of initiating  ho’oponopono with these individuals. This will entail holding discussions with the governor, the University of Hawaii, Thirty Meter Telescope, DLNR, etc.

The Thirty Meter Telescope has undergone a seven year public vetting process. These individuals had  ample opportunity express their concerns about this project during this time. In short, this is simply another stalling tactic that is being employed by the opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

As it stands now, the Thirty Meter Telescope has the legal right to initiate construction until the appellate courts say otherwise. I hope Governor Ige gets a backbone and  stops pandering to the interests of these protesters.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – TMT Has Bent Over Backwards to Address Concerns

I’ve followed the Thirty Meter Telescope public vetting process over the past seven years. The unprecedented public protests against this project caused me to write this commentary.

The public had equal opportunity to give comments about this telescope project. It underwent an extended contested case hearing process before the Board of Land and Natural Resources granted the conservation district use permit in 2013. In addition, Governor Lingle accepted the FEIS in 2010. There was a 60 day window to contest the FEIS after acceptance. No one stepped forward to do this during that window.

The hearing officer determined the Thirty Meter Telescope met all eight criteria to develop their project in the conservation district.

Click to view

Click to view

In addition, he noted the Hawaii Administrative Rules #13-5-24c permits the construction of astronomy facilities in the conservation district, as long there is a management plan in place.

In short, the Thirty Meter Telescope Corporation has bent over backwards to address all concerns about their project over the last seven years.

This is why it would be huge mistake to revoke their vested permits after they’ve been granted. The TMT relied on these permits to start construction on their telescope.

The possible revocation of their legally obtained permits would bring up eerie parallels to the Hokuli’a project in South Kona. Judge Ibarra invalidated their permits after four years of construction and after Oceanside spent 350 million dollars on their project. However, the big difference between these two project is the fact TMT followed the law when obtaining their entitlements, Oceanside (Hokuli’a) did not.

Judge Ibarra placed an injunction on Hokulia project for 2.5 years until a settlement agreement allowed construction to resume in 2006. I foresee a similar scenario happening with the TMT project. The Mauna Kea stakeholders need to reach a global settlement that would allow construction to resume on this telescope.

The Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan contains an excellent framework to get this process started. For example, the TMT will be last new telescope on Mauna Kea. All new telescope projects after the TMT will recycle existing sites.

However, I believe any global settlement needs to go further.

The University Hawaii and the other owners of the Mauna Kea telescopes should reevaluate the telescope decommissioning plan for the science reserve area. The Hawaii Tribune Herald reported the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, James Maxwell Clerk Telescope and Very Low Baseline Array are facing possible decommissioning before the Mauna Kea science reserve master lease expires in 2033.

This is on top of the scheduled decommissioning of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory slated to begin 2016.

The University of Hawaii also needs to indefinitely delay any attempts to extend the master lease for the science reserve area. The current lease expires in 2033, which means all telescopes on Mauna Kea face decommissioning between 2025 and 2033.

The university naturally wants the lease extended another 65 years.I believe more discussion between all Mauna Kea stakeholders is necessary before this proposal moves forward. If this doesn’t happen, the University of Hawaii risks turning an ugly situation uglier.

Mauna Kea’s telescopes have contributed 92 million dollars of direct economic impact in Hawaii County per year. This figure cannot be understated. If all the Mauna Kea telescopes were removed, it would be a huge economic hit to this island.

This is another reason why all the Mauna Kea stakeholders need to come to together and discuss a mutually agreeable plan for Mauna Kea’s future. These discussion need to occur in a face to face environment and not through social media. The latter has poisoned all civil discussion regarding the Thirty Meter Telescope project and future of Mauna Kea.

Aaron Stene,
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Call for Moratorium on TMT is “Grandstanding”

The Thirty Meter Telescope project went through a seven year public vetting process, which included a lengthy contested case hearing for the conservation district use permit. The hearing officer upheld the BLNR’s findings, so the BLNR granted the CDUP and the site lease.

The University of Hawaii also implemented a comprehensive management plan for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. This was mandated after the Keck Outrigger decision. The comprehensive management plan has imposed strict conditions on future telescope projects on Mauna Kea. The TMT will be last new telescope constructed on Mauna Kea; future telescopes will recycle existing facilities and footprint.

In short, I strongly believe OHA Trustee Apo’s call to place a temporary moratorium on the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope is pure and simple grandstanding.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Lack of Redundancy Caused Inconvenience

Hawaiian Telcom’s main fiber-optic trunk cable for West Hawaii was damaged three times over the past year (twice in the same week). These outages were a major  inconvenience for anyone making a purchase or trying to make a phone call. In addition, residents living from Waikoloa to Pahala were not able to call 911 to report any emergencies.

The lack of redundancy is the culprit of these outages. Oceanic Time Warner Cable and Hawaiian Telcom have a fiber-optic cables going from Kawaihae to the Kona area. Oceanic’s fiber traverses along Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Hawaiian Telcom’s  goes along Highway 190.

However, these fiber-optic cables end in the Pahala area and don’t circle the island. So, a simple tree limb can knock out service to a large part of our island.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs estimates it will cost 6 million  dollars to extend the fiber-optic cable between Volcano and Pahala, which will eliminate this dead zone and create a true fiber-optic ring around the Big Island. This added redundancy will help minimize these recent outages in the future.

I hope the County of Hawaii, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, Hawaiian Telcom and the Federal government can work together to help resolve this issue, as our economic well being and public safety is at stake if this not resolved soon.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Daniel K. Inouye Highway Extension Should Remain on the STIP

The proposed Daniel K. Inouye Highway extension should remain on the STIP in lieu of the Kawaihae bypass.

The Daniel K. Inouye Highway.  Photo by Aaron Stene

The Daniel K. Inouye Highway. Photo by Aaron Stene

Yes, I know the Kamuela community has tried to advance the Kawaihae bypass for a very long time. However, I believe the time to construct this highway has passed.

The cost of the Kawaihae bypass has increased to 280 million dollars. HDOT estimated the cost of this project to be about 130 million dollars back in 2009. I don’t think its prudent to commit this much federal highway  funds to one project, especially when there is other highway projects statewide in dire need of funding

The Federal Highway Trust Fund is practically insolvent. This means there will be less Federal highway funds available over the next couple years. This is why we need to take a long, hard look at what highway projects should move forward and which ones shouldn’t.

I firmly believe constructing a mini-bypass road around the dry side of Kamuela, doing safety improvements to the existing Kawaihae Road, and constructing the  Daniel K. Inouye Highway Extension will help ease Kawaihae Road’s traffic and safety deficiencies.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Palamanui Developers Asking for Concessions From County

The developer of the Palamanui project, which is home to the future Hawaii Community College at Palamanui, is again asking for concessions from Hawaii County.

The ground breaking of Palamanui Campus

The ground breaking of Palamanui Campus

This time they’re asking for a time extension to construct the University Drive Extension between the college campus and Queen Kaahumanu Highway . In addition, they’re asking for relief from constructing a new mauka-makai roadway between the college and Mamalahoa Highway.

The developer(s) of this project have spent over 20 million dollars on infrastructure improvements for their project and the new college campus. I firmly believe they’ve gone above and beyond with their investment back into the community. This is why I believe the county, the developer and the community need to work together to find a mutually agreeable solution to this issue. It would be a real loss for the community if Palamanui’s hand is forced and they have to suspend their project. Everyone would lose in this in scenario.

Palamanui has offered to contribute 3 million dollars to start work on the next segment of the Ane Keohokalole Highway in lieu of construction of the new mauka-makai connector. The county could expedite the design and obtain the environmental clearances for this highway segment as a result.

I firmly believe extending Ane Keohokalole Highway will help with regional traffic circulation more than extending University Drive between the Mamalahoa Highway and the college campus.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – The Department of Transportation Needs Strong Leadership and Fresh Perspective

I’m a concerned citizen, who closely follows county and state highway projects on the Big Island. I believe its important to monitor these new projects, especially since the State and county are using taxpayer dollars to build these new highways. This is why I’ve spent so much of my free time being a community transportation advocate.

The centralized Oahu Hawaii Department of Transportation leadership, along with the Federal Highways Administration, has treated people like myself as enemies of the state. I’ve had to jump through hoops to get any updates through alternative means over the past four years as a result. These departments really need to embrace the public’s
participation and be more transparent.

Soon-to-be Governor David Ige promised to conduct his administration in a more transparent fashion. However, this is only part of the solution to the issues facing the HDOT. Governor Abercrombie’s HDOT appointees had no leadership and public relation skills. This has to change under Governor Ige’s watch. The HDOT needs strong leadership to push several stalled projects, such as the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening phase 2 and the final east side Daniel K. Inouye Highway phase, forward.

I hope Governor Ige fulfills his campaign promises, as Hawaii can’t afford four more years of spinning its wheels.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Commentary – Growing Weary of the National Park Service

I’m growing weary of the National Park Service’s repeated attempts to stop development in North Kona. They’ve held up three different projects that I’m aware of over the past 14 years. The NPS has intervened in the Kaloko Makai, Kaloko Industrial Park expansion (phases III and IV) and the second phase of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening.

The latter project was slated to start in 2011, but the National Park Service intervened and requested a Section 106 consultation. This opened the door for other Native Hawaiian Organizations to intervene. The net result of these delays is approximately 100 construction workers are on the bench and a much-needed highway widening is stalled.

The National Park Service also intervened in TSA Corporation’s petition to reclassify 102 acres of land for the Kaloko Light Industrial Park expansion.They did a case study titled “Using State Laws And Regulations To Protect Parks From Adjacent evelopment”, which detailed their actions in this matter.

The TSA Corporation wasn’t able to start construction until mid 2007 due to the National Park’s intervention. However, the overall economy was sliding into the Great Recession at that time. These lots remain unsold to this day. The TSA Corporation never recouped their 43 million dollar investment as a result.

History is about to repeat itself on a more devastating scale if the Commission on Water Resource Management approves the NPS’s petition to designate the Keauhou Aquifer  as a water management area. The Department of Water Supply won’t be issuing new water meters until they can determine how much existing usage there is. In addition, all new requests for water will have to go through a quasi-judicial contested case hearing. This isn’t a quick process, as various experts will be presenting  contradictory information during these proceedings.

The National Park Service actions will undoubtedly affect future economic growth in North Kona as a result. Their actions are not only wasting taxpayer money, but also puts the residents on North Kona in harms way.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona