Praise for proposed park


The public got its first look at the much-anticipated final master plan of the Kealakehe Regional Park Tuesday evening at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

The county has tried unsuccessfully to build the park for nearly 40 years, according to studies and newspaper articles dating back to 1976. In 1985, a Kealakehe sports complex was proposed, and in 1990, an 18-hole golf course was planned. Neither was built.

The county had an executive order designating the then-state land for a golf course and other park amenities. In January 2011, an amended executive notice was signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie putting the 190 acres under county control for a regional park. Roughly a year ago, Kimura International Inc. was hired by the county to prepare a long-range regional park master plan, which will guide its development for the next 20 years.

Three public meetings were held to gather residents’ input for the park, located between the Kealakehe Police Station and West Hawaii Civic Center. The state property under county control is bordered by Queen Kaahumanu and Ane Keohokalole Highways.

The months of planning resulted in a park that could cost nearly $90 million — funding that has yet to be secured. Despite this hurdle, great optimism was expressed as several people pointed out funding means and costing-saving measures.

Glenn Kimura, president of Kimura International, said the park could be built in four phases, of which the price tags ranged from roughly $15 million to $27 million depending on the scope of work. He also mentioned how turning to the private sector could help move the project forward.

The West Hawaii Parks and Athletic Corporation, or WHIPAC, was repeatedly mentioned. The newly established 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s purpose is to seek funding for the design, planning and construction of the park. Any donations made to this organization would be tax deductible.

During Tuesday’s meeting, it was suggested that wealthy individuals living along the Kona Coast be encouraged to give to this project.

Bob Fitzgerald, deputy director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation, spoke about the value of partnerships. He said such collaborations are not only key for funding opportunities, but also for helping with maintenance.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle with this project. WHIPAC President Bo Kahui said a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to list 18,000 acres between Palani Road and Waikoloa as critical habitat for three plant species would impact the Kealakehe Regional Park.

He urged park supporters to submit testimony, opposing the rule and asking that all land within Area 35, which includes the planned park, be excluded.

“The FWS did not survey the property before including it, along with thousands of other acres in West Hawaii, in its proposed critical habitat area. It is not known whether the three plant species exist on the park site, or if so, where they are,” according to a document prepared by Kimura International for the county. “Designating 100 percent of the park site constrains use of the property, jeopardizing the community’s long-held dream for a regional park.”

The federal agency has reopened the comment period on its proposal and is accepting testimony until Sept. 3. FWS is also holding a second information meeting from 3 to 5 p.m. Aug. 7 at the West Hawaii Civic Center, where no oral testimony will be heard because it’s not a public hearing.

During Tuesday’s meeting, facilitator Herb Lee performed “Kona Kai Opua” while the roughly 50-member audience watched a 3-D model flyover, which gave a clear idea of how the 190-acre resource will be transformed into a magnet for a variety of recreational activities.

It generated a round of hana hou requests and applause, as well as lots of praise and a couple of small changes.

The master plan proposes a soccer/football/rugby complex, a baseball/softball complex and a tennis complex.

A covered play court suitable for indoor basketball and volleyball, along with a central plaza featuring an amphitheater, skate park, dog park, driving range and archery space are also part of the design.

Other elements include a grass holua slide, community garden area, miles of bike and pedestrian paths, concession stands, a water play area, restrooms and offices.

An environmental assessment must be completed and funding secured before construction begins.

The entire plan will be available at kealakeheregionalpark.com.