Column: FEIS for Kawainui-Hamakua marsh project inadequate
On Oct. 25, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Kawainui-Hamakua Master Plan Project.
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On Oct. 25, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Kawainui-Hamakua Master Plan Project. The Hawaii Audubon Society has found the FEIS does not meet the requirements of Hawaii’s Environmental Policy Act. It indicates that the project’s primary purpose is the development of these wetlands for human use, when the restoration of this severely degraded wetland ecosystem should be BLNR’s top priority.
Kawainui Marsh and Hamakua Marsh share international recognition as biosphere reserve sites under the auspices of UNESCO, and as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. They are part of a single mountain-to-ocean ecosystem that has been degraded by upstream water diversions to the Waimanalo watershed and the construction of a dike/wall for flood control, which has prevented stream flow from following its natural course through the marsh complex and on into the ocean.
The impact of these diversions — plus Kapaa valley landfill and industrial park pollution, alien species introduced to feed cattle, and buildings and parking lots along almost all of the edges of the marsh — have led to the current degradation of these wetlands.
The FEIS should but does not include detailed and comprehensive wetlands ecosystem restoration and habitat management plans to protect the four endangered Hawaiian waterbirds and several migratory waterbird species that live there.
The FEIS does not include foreseeable impacts such as climate change and sea level rise. Instead it proposes the construction of a new cultural center within a few feet of the wetlands with buildings that total 10,000 square feet. The center will need a septic wastewater system with a leach field that will inevitably leach pollutants into the marsh.
The FEIS projects that such “improvements” will attract 9,050 visitors a month. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Recovery Plan recommends minimizing human disturbance to waterbirds and their habitats, which includes controlling human access to wetlands during breeding season.
The Hawaii Audubon Society recommends that the master plan:
>> Close the marsh to all visitors during the endangered and migratory wetland birds nesting seasons.
>> Prohibit leasing or granting permits to build on state land makai of the Quarry Road, Kalanianaole Highway between the Quarry Road, and Castle Hospital and Kailua Road between the highway and Hamakua Drive.
>> Prohibit commercial activity on state land in and around the marsh complex.
>> Require all toilets within 2,000 feet of the marsh and on adjacent state land uphill from the wetlands to be connected to the nearest City and County of Honolulu wastewater treatment facility.
>> Prohibit any further expansion of the Kapaa Industrial Park.
>> Restore the historic water volume and flow through the wetlands and prioritize the removal of the central peat mat to prevent future flooding of the Coconut Grove residential area.
>> Provide detailed and comprehensive wetlands ecosystem restoration and habitat management plans to protect four endangered Hawaiian waterbirds and several migratory waterbird species.
In sum, the FEIS conflicts with Hawaii’s long-term environmental policies, goals and guidelines. The Society believes only a fully restored and functioning Kawainui Marsh — which provides an abundance of wetland habitat and protection for Hawaii’s endangered waterbirds and migratory birds; has water quality as clean and pure as possible and is adequate to provide sufficient waterbird habitat and facilitate native goby migration; actively protects known archaeological sites and seeks to discover as-yet unearthed historical and archaeological sites; and is a secure and safe place to visit —can host only a limited number of people to experience its wonders.
Linda M. Paul, an environmental attorney, is president of the Hawaii Audubon Society and international director of EarthTrust’s Endangered Species Program.