Saturday | November 28, 2015
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Fly me to the moon

The idea of a spaceport on Hawaii Island is back on the table, Rep. Cindy Evans told West Hawaii residents Wednesday evening.

Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, said she couldn’t remember who gave an informational briefing to the Legislature about the proposal, but said the state Department of Business and Economic Development’s Office of Aerospace Development was the agency working with that group.

“They have a connection with the Florida spaceport,” Evans said. “Based on all the technology of what they know about getting up into orbit … Hawaii is the best place in the world” to launch into orbit.

Several audience members pointed out the failed attempt to build a spaceport at South Point a few decades ago. Former state legislator Virginia Isbell said the proximity to Naalehu, and the impact the spaceport could have on residents there, is what killed that project.

The plans are very general right now, Evans said.

“This could take five or 10 years to even get there,” she said. “They’re looking. They’re having that conversation.”

That conversation only began in the last month, she added.

On a related note, she said, UH-Hilo technology park officials are looking at what it would take to create a business office in East Hawaii to provide ground support for moon-exploring robots, if such a moon exploration mission takes off.

Several dozen people attended the meeting Wednesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Renewable energy, particularly increasing the amount of photovoltaic systems allowed and used around the island, was a hot topic, generating several questions.

“This energy thing is still such a huge priority,” Evans said.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona, responding to a question about increasing photovoltaic systems on a utility-wide level, said battery storage is still an issue.

But in an attempt to increase the number of individuals who can add photovoltaic systems to their homes, Lowen said she is supporting a bill that would allow for on-bill financing systems, basically spreading out the cost of a photovoltaic system over time.

One of the quickest actions the state House took this session was to vote to disband the Public Land Development Corp. Several state Senate bills propose an overhaul of the program, but Evans said she doesn’t think that would be an appropriate move. She does support a proposal to allow the state to develop some open land, set aside for schools, to fund school renovation and other improvements.

“There’s no exemptions” from state and county regulations under that plan, Evans said, describing what sets the program apart from the PLDC. “The state never gives up the land.”

West Hawaii residents also pressed state Department of Transportation officials for details about the Kona International Airport modernization plans. The first step, Deputy Director for Airports Ford Fuchigami said, is moving the Ellison Onizuka Space Center across the street into a new $6.5 million building with concessions and its own parking area.

Once the museum is moved, then the DOT can begin on the 107,000-square-foot, $70 million project, which will consolidate check-in and security lines, and connect the now-separate north and south terminals.

Meeting attendees wanted to know more about the potential food options and shops the new terminal could have, noting some issues with the existing concessionaire. Fuchigami said even DOT employees ran into problems at Kona airport several years ago, when they arrived at 8:30 p.m. and found the restaurant already closed.

“We have a lot of plans for it,” he said. “We want to make sure we get quality food and beverage, quality shops.”

The existing contract runs through 2017, and does require the concessions to remain open until the last flight, Fuchigami said.