Passengers wait for their luggage to arrive in the baggage claim area Aug. 29 at Kona International Airport. The state Department of Transportation is proposing airfield, terminal and facility improvements at the airport. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Passengers check their luggage through the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection area at Kona International Airport on Aug. 29. Phase one of the proposed terminal modernization project will involve centralizing the check-in area and consolidating inspectors. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Passengers check their luggage through the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection area at Kona International Airport on Aug. 29. Phase one of the proposed terminal modernization project will involve centralizing the check-in area and consolidate inspectors. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Residents asked Monday evening for more opportunities to weigh in on the medical transitional facility included in the state draft environmental assessment of the proposed upgrades at Kona International Airport.
During the public information meeting in the Kealakehe Elementary School cafeteria, attendees questioned whether such a facility was necessary and expressed concerns regarding the impacts it would have on the private sector.
The medical transitional facility would serve as office space for doctors flying to West Hawaii to see patients. The state Department of Transportation would either lease land to a medical provider or group to allow that entity to build medical offices, potentially including an area to stabilize patients prior to a flight for emergency treatment, or it would build a facility and rent the space. The goal is to minimize time spent in transit for doctors and patients, the draft document stated.
When asked if an economic impact assessment would be conducted, Earl Matsukawa, vice president and director of planning for Wilson Okamoto Corp., DOT’s project consultant, explained the facility is “a not well-developed idea.” The facility was proposed as a need and a site exists for it, he said.
For this EA, Wilson Okamoto Corp. is not looking into impacts to the private sector because more information about the project would be needed. However, a future study could be done when the operations are better understood, Matsukawa said.
Kona Community Hospital Medical Director Kathleen Rokavec was concerned that no discussions occurred with the hospital and Hawaii Health Systems Corp. about the proposed medical transitional facility prior to it being included in the plan. She said the facility may duplicate existing services and affect the hospital’s future planning. Discussions about constructing a new hospital are currently under way, she added.
Kona resident Marni Herkes asked for additional opportunities for the public to comment further on the medical transitional facility. She also advised DOT to consider the long-planned future developments slated by Kona Community Hospital, as well as nearby West Hawaii health clinics and centers, adding that everything seems to be moving closer to the airport, thus mitigating the need for the proposed facility.
The state would spend roughly $235 million in upgrades at the airport in the next decade if it constructs all of the 12 projects listed in the EA. The cost estimate was recently re-evaluated and decreased significantly from a potential price tag of more than half a billion dollars.
For instance, construction of an aircraft rescue and firefighting station was taken out because a Federal Aviation Administration grant is covering the improvements and the project is already going forward, said Wilson Okamoto Corp. planner Lauren Yasaka.
In 2010, the DOT released a master plan providing a 20-year vision for the airport, identifying facilities and construction projects needed in the future and determining how to finance them. Included in the state’s EA are airfield improvements and airport facilities presented in the master plan, as well as smaller projects that are not.
Meanwhile, the National Environmental Policy Act EA and Section 106 Consultation only focuses on three proposed improvements: the relocation of the Ellison Onizuka Space Center, phase one of the terminal modernization, and interior renovations to the existing aircraft rescue and firefighting station for a new commuter air terminal. These projects are anticipated to be implemented within one to five years, Yasaka said.
Phase one of the terminal modernization project involves centralizing the check-in area. All the terminal areas will be connected by a single new building. An underground system will move baggage to the pickup area, freeing floor space. The project also consolidates U.S. Department of Agriculture workers; stakeholder meetings are already being held for this project. The U.S. Department of the Interior commended the department for including upgraded agricultural inspection facilities, but said the DOT’s plan did not go far enough.
The department is evaluating bids for a new building to house the space center, which the DOT decided needed to be moved to accommodate the terminal modernization work. The new single-story center will be about 6,100 square feet and will have an auditorium, exhibition spaces, a classroom/conference room and other amenities. The DOT said in June the relocation project would cost $3 million to $5 million.
To relieve congestion, the DOT wants to expand the general aviation facility at the south ramp and dedicate it for private planes. Helicopter operations now in the south ramp area would be relocated to a new facility built approximately 3,000 feet mauka of the existing runway on the airport ’s north side.
Jacqui Hoover, president of the Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference, asked if hangars could be built in the general aviation area for private planes. DOT Engineering Program Manager Jeff Chang said the department would welcome that type of proposal; sites are available. He advised those interested to contact Hawaii District Airports Manager Chauncey Wong Yuen.
Hoover also inquired about the connectivity between the roads being planned by DOT and the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority. DOT plans to construct Road M, a new two-lane, two-way connector that will eventually provide public access from Queen Kaahumanu Highway to the airport’s south ramp area and connect with a future roadway NELHA plans to build. Matsukawa said the agencies are talking with each other regarding these projects.
Lighting, upcoming federal projects, and the preservation of sacred sites and old Hawaii were also discussed at the Monday meeting, which drew a dozen residents.
Public testimony must be received by Sept. 24 in order for it to be considered in the final EA, expected to be complete by December. Comments may be emailed to KOA@wilsonokamoto.com or mailed to DOT, Airports Division, Attention: Lynn Becones, 400 Rodgers Blvd, Ste. 700, Honolulu, HI 96819. Visit koa.wilsonokamoto.com for more information.