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County deal revives stalled veterans center

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Molokai veterans are hoping that construction of a long-delayed $112,000 veterans center planned for Kaunanakai can begin this summer.

An agreement has been reached between the group Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans and the administration of Mayor Charmaine Tavares and is expected to gain approval of the Maui County Council.

The building permit for the proposed 1,890-square-foot center has been held up since Oct. 14 because of a dispute over whether the site had adequate water flow for firefighting.

The Maui Fire Department had told the veterans group that there is adequate pressure in the existing 4-inch waterline. However, under county law that authority rests with the Maui Department of Water, which rejected the veterans’ building permit, saying the project needed to install an 8-inch waterline and another hydrant.

That would have added $38,000 to the cost of the center, according to Larry Helm, executive director of the Molokai nonprofit organization.

"It’s blatant and wrong," Helm said by phone, pointing out that his organization has spent nearly $30,000 designing the center and abiding by other county planning requirements. The Molokai Planning Commission and the county Fire Department approved the project last year.

Several Molokai veterans met yesterday with Tavares’ aides at the Maui Veterans Center while another group of 10 veterans from Molokai, led by Helm, took their protest to the municipal building in Kahului, where they were joined by a dozen more veterans from Maui.

Mahina Martin, a Tavares spokeswoman who attended yesterday’s meeting at the Maui Veterans Center, said legislation will be submitted to the Council to amend the county ordinance and give the Fire Department the approving authority.

"This is something we have been working on for several years," added Martin, who does not expect opposition to the measure.

Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo, who represents Molokai, said he understands that the legislation would be submitted by the Tavares administration today.

"I support any move to move this process forward," Mateo said. "This is absolutely ridiculous to have gone on so long."

The veterans organization, which says its membership accounts for more than half of the 600 veterans living on Molokai, lobbied the Legislature four years ago and was awarded a $250,000 grant. It already owns 17,000 acres in Kaunakakai on Wharf Road given to them by Molokai Ranch in 2005.

It wants to build a 1,890-square-foot structure that would house a meeting room and office and counseling space. The veterans also want to construct an 1,100-square-foot pavilion where outside events could be held.

On May 11 Herbert Chang, water supply engineering program manager, told the veterans group that there is inadequate water pressure in the existing 4-inch waterline to fight a fire.

Helm said the veterans center "does not have the financial resources to do this installation, the conditions imposed are unreasonable and would result in a financial hardship."

Helm said the Maui Fire Department approved the organization’s building plans, noting a hydrant at the site—where there are now 11 businesses and other buildings—had sufficient flow for firefighting.


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