Saving What Matters
Turtle Bay Resort (TBR) hosted a public open house on Dec. 12 to discuss a revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for its new expansion plan. More than 150 people turned out to discuss the “Proposed Action” to develop approximately 220 acres of the nearly 5-mile-long, mostly pristine coastline to either side of the existing resort.
“This informational meeting is part of our continuing commitment to being open and transparent about our plans and expectations,” said Drew Stotesbury, CEO of Replay Resorts, which represents TBR’s owners, a consortium of international investment management firms.
The room was divided into stations, at which TBR representatives spoke with community members about concerns such as traffic, cultural impacts, endangered species and land conservation.
A “Conservation Partner Alternative” (CPA) poster board stimulated much conversation. The CPA was included in the Draft SEIS “as a good-faith response to community feedback we received . . . and to support the option of permanent conservation of both Kawela Bay and the bulk of the makai lands stretching toward Kahuku Point,” Stotesbury said. Given that “the clock is ticking” on the 45-day review period for the Draft SEIS, “the community and potential conservation partners would need to step up now for the [CPA] to replace our ‘Proposed Action’[PA],” Stotesbury added.
This sentiment resonated with Lucky Cole of Keep the North Shore Country. “The CPA is a step in the right direction,” Cole said, while noting that, “the community vision from the Governor’s Turtle Bay Working Group would likely have protected more of the coastline.” While emphasizing that “the North Shore community and other stakeholders” will continue “a vigorous examination of the PA,” Cole added, “a broad-based coalition that could help achieve a workable version of the CPA is taking shape that will create a win-win for the resort owners, the developers, residents and visitors alike.”
Impacts: “A big deal”
With regard to the rest of the plan, community advocates expressed strong concerns. Cole underscored that he differed with TBR’s characterization of the new plan as a 60 percent reduction from the original full-build option. “The expansion and possible tripling of the scope and impacts of the current resort footprint along this priceless coastline is a big deal,” said Mark Cunningham of Defend Oahu Coalition. “The true footprint of the TBR expansion proposal centers on TBR’s interpretation of the proposed 1,215 hotel and resort-residential ‘units.’
“Will each unit have more than one room, and how many people can be accommodated in each unit? These and other questions will likely motivate the community and other stakeholders to step up action on the Conservation Partner Alternative,” Cunningham predicted.
Angela Huntemer, a resident of Kuilima Estates East, said she was very concerned that the Draft SEIS may be inadequate regarding its survey of, and mitigation measures for, endangered species. “They say there are no endangered plants on the property and that there is no critical habitat on, or adjacent, to the property. This is simply not true,” Huntemer said. “I found the endangered ohai plant in the dunes; the marsh and wastewater treatment plants are designated supporting habitats; and the neighboring James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge was created decades ago to protect four endangered water birds.”
A hotel employee said she supports the expansion as a good opportunity for the resort to help the state reduce the current traffic congestion. Joseph Grassadonia, a resident of Kuilima Estates West, said he could not disagree more. “After speaking with the traffic study people, I am convinced that they have no solutions except to build the resort first, put a traffic light at the corner of Kuilima Drive, and propose widening parts of Kamehameha Highway on the taxpayer’s dime. I find it unconscionable to accept traffic impacts that will make our problems worse,” Grassadonia said.
Kaa‘awa Community Association recently passed a resolution opposing the expansion, said its vice chair Brian Walsh, primarily because of the severe traffic impacts to this community, which lies 16 miles down Kamehameha Highway on the Windward coast.
The SEIS is a disclosure document designed to inform government agencies and officials. It does not, itself, require mitigation of any impacts, yet there are many concerns about the potential impacts on neighboring communities, ecosystems and the experience of North Shore residents and visitors alike.
All written comments must be submitted by Jan. 7, 2013 [the date has been corrected], during preparation of the Final SEIS. Information on where to submit comments and links to the related documents are online at [turtlebayseis.com] and [KeeptheNorthShoreCountry.org].