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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Regents endorse Kaka'ako for med school

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

It took less than five minutes yesterday for the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents to give final approval to the 10.06-acre Kaka'ako site for the John A. Burns Medical School complex.

The complex encompasses the proposed new Health and Wellness Center and would include the medical school, the Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i and a biomedical technology research park.

The regents' approval puts to rest any last minute speculation about where the university will focus the $150 million development designed to pump millions of federal dollars in research money into the state economy.

Over the summer, Interim Vice Chancellor Karl Kim chaired a committee of faculty and administrators to evaluate 10 sites and concluded Kaka'ako was preferable to the others.

Among those under scrutiny were sites in Kapolei, near Barbers Point Naval Station, Tripler Army Medical Center, on Alapai Street, and at Leahi Hospital.

At the same special meeting yesterday, the regents voted to acquire property in Kapalama Military Reservation from the state to relocate tenants who will be displaced from Kaka'ako. Chairman Bert Kobayashi said tenants could have 90 days or more to make the move. The property acquisition requires approval by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The regents also voted to look a gift horse in the mouth by postponing acceptance of the Meadow Gold Dairy property in Waimanalo to check further into the dairy's documentation studies regarding soil contamination.

Maui regent Everett R. Dowling asked Meadow Gold attorney Michael Hare to have Meadow Gold put an additional $1.5 million into escrow for "clean-up" if that needs to be done. The company is already offering $1.5 million to the university as part of the deal. It's to address "operational and clean-up concerns," said Hare.

"I'm concerned with liability of the property," said Dowling.

UH President Evan Dobelle had several pointed questions about the same thing, questioning whether the university should "release the giver" of all responsibility, as the dairy asks.

Hare responded that the dairy has made three reports available to the university but is still in the process of completing an environmental assessment.

"We've done our best to invite the university experts into our house and see our documentation," said Hare.

Carroll Cox and Joe Ryan of EnviroWatch were delighted with the delay. They warned the regents there's been no comprehensive impact statement on contaminants other than the benzene that still sits nine feet below the surface where an underground tank had been removed. The dairy, they said, should be required to clean up the property. Benzene, a known carcinogen, is a hydrocarbon found in gasoline, diesel and other fuels.

"Let's not inherit a $5 million or $20 million clean-up cost," said Cox. "The cost per barrel to dispose of contaminated dirt is $700 to $1,200 and that's for three cubic yards. There's approximately 400 barrels in this setting."

Benzene is still "pervasive" at the site where the tank was, said a university expert from the Environmental Health and Safety Office. But the chemical is also known to break down rapidly.

The regents are expected to put this item back on the agenda before the end of the year. Meadow Gold has asked for a decision by Dec. 31.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.