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Puu Waawaa Dry Forest to host researchers, young scientists

May 26, 2017 - 8:43pm

HILO — A research and education center to be constructed about a mile north of the Puu Waawaa cinder cone moved a step forward this week with the publication of a finding of no significant environmental impact.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources concurs with the finding, according to a letter published Tuesday in the state’s Environmental Notice along with a 116-page report of the environmental assessment.

The center is slated to be built makai of an old landing strip in the 38,000-acre Puu Waawaa Dry Forest unit of the Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest about 20 miles south of Waimea. It should be complete in about three years, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Constructed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, on land leased from DLNR, the facility intends to be self-sufficient. Power would be generated by a photovoltaic array with battery storage and generator back up. Potable water would be hauled to the site, and sanitary waste hauled away for disposal.

The project would provide a 1,100-square-foot bunkhouse for 10 visiting scientists or students as well as instruction space.

A similar facility has been in place at the institute’s wet forest unit, the Laupahoehoe Wet Forest, for about three years, Ric Lopez, director of the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, said Wednesday.

Lopez said the station will be used by institute researchers, as well as researchers from universities all over the United States and some countries. There’s also an educational component for young scientists and managers, he said.

The 5.7-acre facility site would also feature an approximately 400-square-foot education and demonstration pavilion suitable for conference, meeting and classroom use and a designated occasional-use tent area for up to 15 individuals.

The site has already been disturbed by construction of the private airstrip and more than a century of cattle grazing, applicants say.

“Implementation of mitigation measures would result in little to no impacts to wildlife or state-listed species and no adverse effects to federally listed species that are known to or may occur in and near the project area,” the report stated. “No cultural or historical properties were identified within the project area, thus no impacts are expected.”

Only a handful of people, primarily representatives of government agencies, responded to a solicitation for public comment during that part of the process. Comments were generally positive.

One of those commenting was Jerry King, a former owner of land in the area, who said the project could be positive because researchers could also help keep an eye out for members of the public tracking invasives in or creating fire hazards.

“When the cinder cone was opened for people to hike up to the top, it was on specific days only … and docents were made available during those open hours to both check in people, control them and check them out. Now, people can go anywhere, and the dangers from them tracking in invasive species and being the cause of fire, etc. is unlimited. This is so sad after so much money, time and effort has been spent to preserve and protect such a unique resource,” King said in a Feb. 12, 2016, letter.

“It seems to me that your specific project, particularly the access to and from it by construction and/or scientists and/or other visitors could be set up in a manner to reinstate all the appropriate protective procedures,” he said.

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