More than $13 million is headed for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority to construct a new frontage road and intersections, upgrade a seawater pipeline and renovate administrative offices.
The largest allotment of capital improvement project funding was $9.69 million that will be used construct a 0.8-mile frontage road that will both provide improved access to the park and serve as an economic driver, opening lots for new tenants and expansion of the research park. The road will cross the park’s upper 80 acres, which have been zoned and set aside for offices and a commercial/retail complex.
The funding will also cover extending Kaiminani Drive to the planned frontage road and creating a four-way signalized intersection at Kaiminani Drive’s current terminus at Queen Kaahumanu Highway as well as connecting the frontage road to Makako Bay Drive.
NELHA Executive Director Greg Barbour described the project as “shovel ready” when submitting a request for funding to the 2013 state Legislature. The road improvements are required because the current access to NELHA, Makako Bay Drive, will become a right-turn-in, right-turn-out only intersection when Queen Kaahumanu Highway is widened between Kealakehe Parkway and Kona International Airport.
Barbour, who was unable to be reached for comment as of press time Saturday, previously told West Hawaii Today the frontage road, which will run parallel to Queen Kaahumanu Highway, could be completed within a year after starting construction.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Friday announced the release of $13.017 million in capital improvement project funds directed to NELHA to cover the road project as well as a pipeline upgrade and renovation to the North Kona science and technology park’s administrative building.
“A successful test-bed for applied research, demonstration, testing and evaluation, NELHA is a driver of innovation, economic development, and job creation on the Big Island and for our entire state,” Abercrombie said in a prepared statement. “Investments in these and other facilities and programs will further opportunities to advance our energy sustainability, diversify our economy and keep us on course toward long-term economic viability.”
The funds were among some $28.3 million released statewide for state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism facilities, infrastructure and programs. In addition to NELHA, funding was directed to a statewide dwelling unit revolving fund used for affordable housing-related property acquisition and loans, which received $7 million, and several projects and a program on Oahu.
All the funds released by Abercrombie were previously identified by state legislators. The funding was originally requested by NELHA and included in Abercrombie’s two-year budget for 2013-15 that was submitted to legislators last session.
Abercrombie released $2.32 million for upgrades to the area’s main pipeline system.
The funding will cover the design and construction of a new pipeline that will allow warm seawater to be shared between the two main subsystems that provide seawater to the technology park tenants. The upgrade will install a 28-inch pipe to provide redundancy between the two main subsystems in the event of a failure at either end; allow more seawater to be pumped to higher elevations; and allow the development of a one-megawatt ocean thermal energy conversion facility.
Renovations to NELHA’s 10,000-square-foot administrative building will allow for open space to be converted into more leasable office space. The $1 million in state capital improvement project funding will be added to a $3 million federal Economic Development Administration grant NELHA received in July 2012 aimed at expanding its alternative energy and biotechnology incubator.
The renovation of the existing business incubator at the park, will turn it into an alternative energy and biotechnology demonstration incubator, according to the administration. The new building will have room for businesses that have completed their products’ research stage but need more technology development and demonstration before the products can be made and distributed commercially.
NELHA, located at Keahole Point, manages the facility on 870 acres of leased state land. The facility was home to 41 tenants consisting of 29 precommercial research and commercial tenants, four Gateway Center tenants, and eight research, educational and community service tenants, according to a 2012 state audit.
In the current fiscal year, 2013-14, NELHA’s operating budget was $7.2 million, according to the state Department of Budget and Finance. More than 3,000 people visited the facility in 2012, according to the budget.
A June 2012 analysis by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization showed that the park’s economic impact on the state of Hawaii alone was $87.7 million in 2010. Just before that report was issued, former state Auditor Marion Higa issued a scathing audit of the technology park, pointing to years of mismanagement and a lack of transparency. She also noted that NELHA was making progress since Barbour took over operations in mid-2011.
The facility was established in 1974 with public and private grants in response to the 1973-74 oil embargo and concerns about Hawaii’s fossil fuel dependence. By 1984, it became apparent seawater could be used for research and other profitable ventures prompting the state to pass laws allowing NELHA to host commercial entities on state property as well as develop the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park.
Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii and the park officially merged in 1990 forming NELHA.