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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 26, 2001

Hilo airport noise solution questioned

 •  Additional airport work
 •  Map: Location of the proposed wall

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Transportation Writer

HILO, Hawai'i — Residents of a neighborhood next to Hilo International Airport have complained for years about jet noise. But they don't care much for a proposed solution: a mile-long, 15-foot-high wall.

State transportation officials say the noise wall, which would be the largest of its kind in Hawai'i, is only in the conceptual stages and just one of several options they are considering to lower the level of aircraft noise.

"Whatever plan we move ahead with would need the community's approval first," said Dennis Higa of the state Department of Transportation's Airports Division, which met with area residents earlier this month. "We're not going to stuff this down people's throat."

Separated only by a chain-link fence, Hilo International Airport's main runway is next to the 300-home Keaukaha neighborhood, a Hawaiian Home Lands subdivision.

The noise problem has been growing since the 1970s as tourist traffic to the Big Island increased and propeller planes were replaced by larger, noisier jets.

Hawai'i County Mayor Harry Kim said the air noise problem has steadily increased. The Hilo airport handles about 30 jet flights a day.

"The air noise problem is not only in the Hawaiian Homes area; its a Hilo problem," Kim said. "We're getting complaints from resorts on Banyan Drive. When we had infrequent flights of DC-3s, it was not a problem.

"Ideally, I would like to see the airport moved but, realistically, that's not going to happen," Kim said. "But the options they've given the residents are pretty limited. Hawaiian Homes was here before the airport was built and expanded."

The state's proposed noise buffer wall would run about 1.1 miles along the south end of the neighborhood. It would be built of dense material to deflect aircraft noise and withstand high winds.

"If you live in the area closest to the runway, the house vibrates when a plane zooms by," said Patrick Kahawaiolaa, president of the Keaukaha Community Association. "But this wall or berm the state is proposing is not going to work for us."

Some residents say the wall or berm would be unsightly, marring their view and blocking trade winds. Kahawaiolaa said the mile-long wall would also block an escape route for residents who live in a tsunami inundation zone.

Higa said other possible solutions include soundproofing homes and providing air conditioners or buying up some of the homes most affected by the noise and paying to relocate residents.

Higa said there is no money yet for any of the alternatives.

The proposals are part of an environmental assessment report being written for various Hilo airport improvements.

Higa said a shorter berm is used near Honolulu International Airport to deflect noise from military housing at Hickam Air Force Base.

Aviation officials measure the aircraft noise using a formula called day-night average noise level, or DNL, for a 24-hour period.

State officials say 53 Keaukaha homes lie within the 65-70 DNL range for aircraft takeoffs and landings.

The state hopes the measures can lower the noise level to less than 60 DNL, which is the state's acceptable level.

"In some neighborhoods, there may be a need for a combination of the noise wall and air conditioning in the homes to bring down the noise levels," he said.

Higa said the noise wall would cost about $3 million to build.

The state did not have a cost for the soundproofing and air conditioning of homes because officials have not determined how many homes are eligible for such a project.

The state will begin a $2.5 million project next summer to install air conditioning at nearby Keaukaha Elementary School to filter out aircraft noise.

Kahawaiolaa said many of the residents he talked to are against moving.

"Some of us Hawaiians already had to move from here to make way for the airport expansion in the 1960s," he said.

"That airport expansion pretty much reduced our community by half."

Kahawaiolaa said some residents at a recent meeting even questioned the use of air conditioners.

"At the meeting, they complained they still would have to foot the cost for electricity," Kahawaiolaa said.

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Reach Scott Ishikawa at 525-8070 or sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.