Kawela Bay, foreground, with Turtle Bay beyond
Image: Sean Davey

More traffic and fewer nesting turtles are just two of the anticipated impacts if Turtle Bay Resort proceeds with its expansion plans, according to a new supplement environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the project.

Turtle Bay Resort LLC is looking to add two new hotels with a total of 625 rooms on either side of the existing resort. Some 225 vacation homes are planned for the Kawela Bay area, with another 365 slated for four developments on the eastern part of the 840-acre parcel, along with 160 affordably-priced units. The homes will be set back from the shoreline–a minimum of 300 feet at Kawela Bay–though a maximum building height of 50 feet will be allowed for houses oriented toward Kawela and 60 feet for those facing Turtle Bay, according to the Turtle Bay SEIS website.

Following legal action brought by Keep the North Shore Country, Defend Oahu Coalition and the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter, the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered the developer to update the 1985 EIS for the controversial project. The new plan “substantially reduces the scope, density and area of the resort expansion,” according to the SEIS.

“Initially, I’m quite concerned about the traffic impacts,” says former Rep. Gil Riviere, who was a party in the lawsuit. “It’s unreasonable to expect the residents of this region to live with that indefinitely. There would have to be some pretty impressive mitigation measures, and I don’t see that.”

Kent Fonoimoana, co-chair of the Defend Oahu Coalition, says residents are very concerned about plans to build in “undisturbed pristine areas” up and down the coast. “We would prefer they contain the development within their existing disturbed area.”

The SEIS also calls for a resort retail center, a farmer’s market, an equestrian center, five parks totaling 73 acres and 12 new shoreline accesses, along with a 100-acre wetland preserve. The developer is looking to dedicate lands on the mauka side of Kamehameha Highway to a perpetual agriculture easement, and consolidate the two existing 18-hole golf courses into a 27-hole golf complex with clubhouse.

The developer hopes to begin building in 2014. The project would generate some 8,700 construction jobs over 11 years of construction, according to the SEIS, as well as 1,500 operational positions at build out.

But Fonoimoana says the decision to build primarily “condotels,” or condominium timeshares, rather than a full-service hotel, doesn’t support “good-paying resort jobs.”

With regard to traffic, Fonoimoana says the project is estimated to add about 900 cars daily to the two-lane Kamehameha Highway. In a recent meeting with the developer, Replay Resorts, he says, “We asked, ‘What are your mitigation plans?’ They said, ‘We don’t have any.’” Fonoimoana adds, “They’re relying on the Department of Transportation to tell them what to do, and DOT has already made it clear they’re not putting in a third lane.”

The SEIS reports that sea turtles, which lay their eggs in the sand, likely would be adversely impacted by the project due to increased use of the remote coastline and more nighttime lighting. But the monk seals that haul out might benefit from the oversight of hotel staff, who could protect them by cordoning off the beach.

“It’s very important that everyone in the community weigh in on whatever they think about the project,” Riviere says. “Now is the time to participate.”