Board Talk: Board Expands Options For Kawainui Marsh Plan

posted in: Board Talk, November 2019 | 0
Kawainui Marsh. Credit: Dan Dennison

At the Land Board’s October 25 meeting, a representative of the Lani-Kailua Outdoor Circle pleaded with the board to minimize any improvements within the 986-acre Kawainui Marsh-Hamakua master plan project area. To appease concerns expressed by that group and others about over-development, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) had already scaled back some of the trails and structures that had been proposed in a draft environmental impact statement for the plan.

Those components, however, were aimed at expanding educational opportunities and Hawaiian cultural practices, and were, in fact, favored by many of the wetland’s longstanding stewards.

“People are afraid we’re going to turn cultural practice [areas] into a commercial use area,” DOFAW administrator Dave Smith told the board. The changes proposed — new trails around the marsh perimeter and gathering spaces — were not expected to dramatically change the character of the marsh, he said, adding, “We would like to increase the ability to bring students down there.”

Smith requested only that the board accept the final environmental impact statement for now. DOFAW will bring the master plan’s components to the board for approval as more details become available, he said.

Board member Chris Yuen said he understood the reasons for dialing down some of the projects that had been originally proposed. “I get it. Kailua has been inundated with tourists,” he said. However, he added, “I just don’t think this is a tourist generator.”

Yuen floated the possibility of restoring some of the projects that were in the draft EIS. He asked Smith why the size of a proposed cultural center along Kapa‘a quarry road was reduced from 9,600 square feet to 7,200. “If people get funding for 9,600 square feet, why would that be bad?” he asked.

“I don’t think it would be,” Smith replied.

Mapuana DeSilva, kumu of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima and president of the Kailua Hawaiian Civic Club, helped draft a plan for the marsh decades ago to establish a place for Hawaiian cultural practices. The plan was never approved by the state, she said. “And ten planning documents later, we are still waiting to do more than piecemeal work, to do than a little bit here and a little bit there, to do more than beg for scraps at what was once our table,” she told the board.

“Although the FEIS does not give us everything we’ve lobbied for, it gives us enough. Our worst fear for Kawainui [is that] 38 years from now, our 80 year old daughters will be asking for the same things,” she said.

Pauline MacNeil of the Lani-Kailua Outdoor Circle, on the other had, opposed the approval of the EIS, stating that DOFAW’s modifications do not address her concerns about modern, permanent structures around the marsh.

“The growing public use that would occur over time, 100 years, would diminish rather than improve water quality,’ she said.

Chuck “Doc” Burrows said he believed common ground between those with op- posing views could still be found and he chairs a group — Hui Kawainui Kailua Ka Wai Ola — focused on achieving that. Burrows has for years led native forest restoration efforts around the marsh, as well as educational and Hawaiian cultural programs.

He testified in support of the EIS, with some reservations. “All these years, we‘ve been sort of working on the sidelines … in restoration and conducting environmental and cultural educational programs,” he said. He lamented the removal of what he saw as central components of the plan. For example, an environmental educational center was replaced with a pavilion and restroom. “Fine. We can work with that,” he said.

Still, he said he appreciated Yuen’s interest in putting back things that had been taken out of the plan, especially some of the trails and overlooks. “We take our volunteers as close to the marsh and in the marsh. … If the Kawainui education center comes into being, this will be the only area where the public can come to. We then could provide guided tours to schools and groups and visitors from abroad,” he said.

Members of ‘Ahahui Malama i Ka Lokahi, which has a state permit to restore wetland habitat at the base of Na Pohaku o Hauwahine, and at the base of Ulupo Heiau, which overlooks the marsh, also supported putting some of the removed components back.

Group president C. Lehuakona Isaacs said that the trails connect people to the environment and allow them to get out of their cars. They also provide access to areas in dire need of invasive species control. “I think a lot of people do not realize the extent of the work that exists right now at Kawainui,” he said.

Isaacs asked for the reinstatement of trails and a hale wa‘a (canoe house), among other things. “Our vision is we would have a place for research, a place to hold presentations from people around the world who are prominent in cultural or ecological practices. This is not a big thing for tourists to visit. This is for our community,” he said.

Biologist Steve Montgomery, the group’s treasurer, described how rewarding it’s been to be able to volunteer with groups restoring the marsh. It was “one of the most satisfying things” when ‘alae ‘ula, the Hawaiian moorhen, started showing up and nesting in areas where ponds were opened, he said. And as a longtime member of the National Wildlife Federation, whose motto is “no child shall be left indoors,” he said he was disappointed that DOFAW would leave out some of the trails and reduce the size of the proposed cultural center.

After an executive session, Yuen made a motion to restore a number of things that were removed from the draft EIS, including trail segments, building areas and the number of proposed educational and cultural structures, two observation decks and interpretive pavillions and to remove a sentence about the marsh’s Mokulana peninsula being used only for DOFAW management activities.

“It’s always better to include more in the discussion on the potential impacts than to try to put something in afterwards,” board member Sam Gon said of Yuen’s proposal. “This allows for a broader range of discussions and broader set of potentials. It does not guarantee they’ll be met,” he said.

Yuen said he believed people should be encouraged to enjoy nature and that he wanted the Hawaiian community to have the cultural sites they asked for.

Gon added, “People can be the bane of our environment, but they can also be the salvation of a place. Increased public, positive influence is better than benign neglect. The disconnection of the public from their places is a big problem.”

The board unanimously approved Yuen’s motion to approve the EIS with amendments.

DOFAW’s planner, Ron Sato of HHF Planners, said the changes to the EIS would take a few weeks to make.

— Teresa Dawson

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