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What’s going on in Koloa?

The battle unfolding in Koloa is oh so typical of what happens way too often on Kaua‘i and throughout the islands.

Big landowners use their local connections and political clout to convert agricultural land to an urban use, promising jobs and homes for local residents in return for their development “entitlements.”

To appease the public, the environmentalists, the neighbors and various do-gooder segments of the community — those same big landowners agree to a range of conditions attached to the approval by the initial state government agency — the Land Use Commission.

In the case of the current Koloa situation, this occurred in 1977 when the Moana Corporation petitioned the LUC to amend the district boundaries and reclassify 457.4 acres in Koloa from an agriculture designation to an urban district.

At the time, Moana proposed building houses and apartments that would be affordable to 40 percent of Kaua‘i residents. They also proposed golf courses, transient vacation rentals, shopping centers, tennis courts and more.

Here we are 45 years later with different owners, different developers and different county regulators, saying the promises made in 1977 don’t mean squat.

While the county looks away, wishing this whole thing goes away, the developer literally blasts away — destroying the evidence (and the critical habitat of endangered cave spiders) along the way.

It’s really standard operating procedure for big-money developers dealing with small-town government agencies.

Meridian Pacific Ltd., the general contractor behind the Koloa project in question, has financed, designed, developed, constructed, leased, managed and owned across the United States, an aggregate total of over 20,000,000 square feet of hospitality, industrial, retail, office and residential income properties for a total value of $4 billion, according to their website.

The County of Kauai’s operating budget for fiscal year 2022 is $243 million.

Predictably, the contractor hires politically connected consultants and then pushes the regulatory envelope and the regulators as hard and as far as possible, claiming their legal right to do so.

The regulators, feeling both the political pressure from the insiders (who the contractor so astutely hired to guide them through the process), and the very real legal pressure from the contractor — too often simply cave in (pun intended).

In this case, the contractors are using explosives adjacent to areas of known historical and cultural significance, ancient caves, and known habitat for the Kaua‘i blind wolf spider and Kaua‘i blind amphipod, both endangered species.

According to a citizens legal action, COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY RULING AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF; SUMMONS filed on May 11 against the county and related development entities, the county received letters from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stating that the property now under construction was likely habitat for the both species. But instead of taking the USFW letter seriously, looking deeper into the issue and possibly incorporating protective measures, the county issued a mass grading permit that has allowed the developer to use explosives on the property.

Further, according to the legal documents filed with the court, the explosions likely exposed a cave in the adjacent property. The county has been informed of the explosions and the cave opening but, according to the plaintiffs, SAVE KOLOA AND FRIENDS OF MAHA‘ULEPU, the county has done nothing.

Meanwhile, the developers, contractors, consultants and investors plow ahead, laughing all the way to the bank. No doubt they are also chuckling behind the scenes at the impotency of the county regulators and the naivety of the general public who are trying so hard to protect historical and cultural resources, ancient caves, and a blind cave wolf spider, of which possibly only 30 exist on the entire planet.

But I’m thinking, he who laughs last laughs best. The county has the legal authority and the responsibility to enforce the law and permit conditions governing this development. The mayor is the executive responsible for making sure the people staffing the various regulatory agencies do their job.

So for those folks concerned about this issue and who support the county following the recommendations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in general ensuring that this development is done in a manner that honors both the intent and the letter of the law — perhaps calling Mayor Kawakami is a good place to start at 808-241-4900. As always, please keep all communications professional and courteous!

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Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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