Tuesday | April 28, 2015
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State plans $500M in Kona airport work

The state would spend more than half a billion dollars in upgrades at Kona International Airport in the next decade, if it constructs all of the projects listed in a recently released draft environmental impact statement.

Included in the plan is a medical transitional facility — office space for Honolulu doctors flying to West Hawaii to see patients.

The cost for that part of the plan wasn’t broken out, but the full build out is expected to cost about $611 million, the draft document said.

The department 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 to Honolulu for emergency treatment, or the DOT would build a facility and rent the space, spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said.

“Someone saw a need” and proposed the facility, Sluyter added. “The idea was to expedite it.”

A medical building “would minimize time spent in transit for doctors and patients,” the draft document said.

Dr. Ali Bairos, chairman of the West Hawaii Regional Board, which oversees Kona Community and Kohala hospitals, said he was concerned the facility might duplicate services to be offered by a long-planned midcoast medical facility, which is expected to replace Kona Community Hospital. Bairos submitted his concerns during a Feb. 9 public meeting about the plan.

State and federal governments, working with some private organizations, are expected to cover construction costs, the document said. Community members may weigh in on the plan and the draft environmental assessment during a meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 10 at Kealakehe Elementary School. Construction is projected to take place over the next five to 10 years.

The DOT released in 2010 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 the projects.

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 proposed expansion at (Kona International Airport) may pose an increased risk for the introduction and establishment of invasive species,” the federal department’s letter to consultant Earl Matsukawa, of Wilson Okamoto Corp., said. “We recommend the inspection facility include support laboratories, and treatment and destruction capabilities to adequately disinfect contaminated materials.”

The department is already getting feedback on its plan to centralize the airport’s check-in area. Some business owners and concessions operators were concerned the department wasn’t doing enough to maximize revenues, a portion of which is returned to the DOT, according to a letter from Greeters of Hawaii owner Peter Fithian.

“Concessionaires have not been consulted on the layout of concessions in most airports in Hawaii and this includes Kona,” Fithian wrote. “This is unfortunate and has resulted in a great loss of airport special fund revenue for a long period of time.”

DOT Engineering Program Manager Jeff Chang said the terminal design is intended to create more space for concessionaires.

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.

The plans do not include any provisions for Jetways, Chang said. West Hawaii residents and visitors regularly voice opposition to such mobile passageways, citing a desire to preserve the airport’s unique appearance.

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.

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 the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority plans to build.

Water recovered at NELHA will be piped to the airport, where a heat exchange facility will chill fresh water and circulate it in the terminal and other buildings. Spent water will return via pipe to NELHA for its use.

The department is evaluating bids for a new building to house the Ellison Onizuka 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.

A Federal Aviation Administration grant is covering the improvements to aircraft rescue and firefighting facilities, estimated to cost more than $16.8 million. A pre-construction meeting was held Aug. 14, Sluyter said. She was unable to provide more specific information, and spent more than a week refusing to respond to West Hawaii Today’s requests about the master plan, environmental assessment and upcoming construction work.