The first funds to aid GIRA were appropriated in 2011, when the Legislature approved spending $500,000 in FY 2012 on “plans, design and construction to upgrade and resurface Mana drag racing strip, ground and site improvements; equipment and appurtenances.” In 2012, the Legislature increased the amount by an additional $1 million. Earlier this year, the DLNR’s Engineering Division awarded a contract to Jennings Pacific in the amount of $846,550 to repave a quarter-mile of the track. With the bid having come in lower than anticipated, in July, the DLNR sought to encumber an additional $260,000 to allow Jennings Pacific to repave another quarter-mile section; the state’s chief procurement officer gave his approval to the contract amendment early last month.
This year, the Legislature inserted CIP funds of $500,000 for FY 2014 and $500,000 for FY 2015 as well. The purpose of the appropriation was described in wording identical to that in previous budget bills. No one at the DLNR is clear on what this appropriation is for. Dickey Lee of the Engineering Division told Environment Hawai`i, “We are working with GIRA to determine other improvement projects to the race track to utilize the new funding.”
The appropriation was inserted into the FY 2014-2015 budget after it had crossed over from the House to the Senate. In the report from the Ways and Means Committee, senators noted that they had increased the governor’s capital improvement project (CIP) budget to add “hundreds of other projects for the Department of Education the University of Hawai`i, Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Department of Accounting and General Services.”
Senate vice president Ron Kouchi, a member of the Ways and Means Committee whose district includes West Kaua`i and Ni`ihau, defended the project. In a phone interview with Environment Hawai`i, Kouchi said that GIRA had submitted a request for funds, noting “the track was in disrepair and unsafe.”
When asked if a sport that involves the lavish consumption of fossil fuels is one that the state should be encouraging, Kouchi pointed to his record of support for legislation that encourages use of renewable fuels and other environmental bills.
Kouchi also defended the drag strip as an important economic driver for west Kaua`i. On holiday weekends – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day – “four to five thousand people participate in racing events,” he said.
Kouchi is not alone in his enthusiastic support for the track. When ground was broken on the track resurfacing project in June, Lieutenant Governor Shan Tsutsui read a statement from Governor Neil Abercrombie that praised GIRA for promoting “safe motorsports” and for encouraging “safe driving on public roads.” State Rep. Dee Morikawa said the drag strip was “a great economic driver for the west side,” according to a report in the Garden Island newspaper.
William Aila, DLNR director, was reported as saying the project provided “a place to gather to share stories of the past, make stories for the present, and to teach children about how they will create stories for the future.”
Tony Ricci, president of GIRA, then told the crowd that safety in motor sports is one of the highest priority items in the group’s mission, the paper reported.
Ricci, by the way, is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Kaua`i County and the state, alleging that either one of them, or both, were at fault when he sustained serious and permanent injuries in a motorcycle accident on Koke`e Road last January. According to the complaint filed in 5th Circuit Court, “the condition of Koke`e Road constituted an unreasonable risk of harm and was unreasonably dangerous to motorists… The dangerous condition of the roadway caused plaintiff to lose control of his vehicle and collide and crash with a guardrail.” As a consequence of the accident, Ricci claims, he “has suffered, and will continue to suffer, severe and permanent physical injury and suffering, mental distress, loss of wage and/or impairment of earning capacity, diminution of enjoyment of life’s activities, expenses incurred for treatment of his injuries, together with other damages as shall be proved at time of trial.”