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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, May 2, 2005

Dredging work at marina could disturb native bird

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

HAWAI'I KAI — A battle is brewing over the native Hawaiian stilt's favorite spot in the Hawai'i Kai marina.

Native stilts have settled in on Rim Island 2, bottom, in the Hawai'i Kai marina. Plans call for dumping dredged material on that islet.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Bird lovers fear that the home of an endangered species in the marina is threatened by a dredging project by the Hawai'i Kai Marina Association.

The association oversees the maintenance and management of the privately owned marina created 40 years ago by Henry J. Kaiser when Hawai'i Kai was developed. It plans to do spot maintenance dredging around the 13 miles of waterways. The association is made up of homeowner members and representatives from the three shopping centers.

There are three places in the marina designated for the dumping of dredged material — two islands, known as Rim Island 1 and 2, and a two-acre piece of land by the farmers' lots at the rear of the marina.

The stilts are nesting in a marshy area on Rim Island 2.

"It's important that the birds will be taken care of," said Jim Dittmar, a resident of Hawai'i Kai. "This is the only native Hawaiian stilt breeding habitat from Pearl Harbor to Kane'ohe. It is free from feral cats and dogs, rats and mongoose. It is the only breeding site in all of the state which is free of these predators."

The stilt is a slender wading bird that grows to about 16 inches in length with a black and white forehead and white belly. The stilts can still be found on all the islands except Kaho'olawe, but their numbers have not increased much. Currently there are about 1,200 birds on Maui and O'ahu, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The biggest threat to the birds is the loss of the wetland habitat.

The association says it needs to dump the dredged material on the island with the stilts because the other island is nearly full and the parcel of land is too close to homes. The best place to dump is the 3.2-acre island where the stilts have nested, said Marina Association president Jaap Suyderhoud.

The last time the association dredged the marina was in 2003. Then it used Rim Island No. 1, which the association says is pretty much filled up now.

The matter is in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must approve the association's request for a 10-year permit to dredge when it is needed. A meeting was held Thursday, but no decisions were made, said Joseph Bonfiglio, chief of the corps' Public Affairs Honolulu Engineer District.

No new meetings are scheduled, but the corps routinely meets with applicants and other agencies as needed or by their request, Bonfiglio said. The corps will issue a press release once the final determination has been made, he said.

Some residents feel there is no way the association can dump any material on Rim Island 2 without endangering the habitat of the stilts. They say the association should dump the dredged material in the other two areas.

The island, near the end of the Hawai'i Kai marina, is about 140,000 square feet and consists of wetland, mudflat and pond, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The corps is continuing to coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the adequacy of the Association's proposed Rim Island 2 Waterbird Habitat Management Plan that addresses conservation and protection of the Hawaiian stilts during the proposed dredging," Bonfiglio said.

The association hopes to start dredging in the fall, Suyderhoud said, starting at the mouth of the marina by the ocean and Maunalua Bay. Even though there are other areas in which to dump the dredge material, the island where the stilts have landed and nested is the best for the 40,000 yards of material over the next 10 years, he says. Half of the dredged material will be sand taken from the mouth of the marina where it meets the ocean under the Kalaniana'ole Highway bridge, Suyderhoud said. The sand taken from there will be placed back on the beach along Portlock.

The marina needs repeated spot dredging because so much runoff from rain pours into the marina during the rainy season, Suyderhoud said. If the Corps of Engineers decides not to allow the dredge material on Rim Island 2, the association will have to consider costlier methods, Suyderhoud said. Those include dumping in the ocean or using one of the other pieces of land to dry the dredge material and then paying to have it hauled away.

Some community members say that if higher marina fees are needed to preserve the birds, then they will pay, said Gayle Carr, a Hawai'i Kai resident and marina member.

"These birds are a community issue," Carr said.

The stilts appeared after a dredging in 1995 and 1996, when dredged material was stacked up on the island, he said.

"We've addressed the Hawaiian stilts," Suyderhoud said. "We've proven that we can accommodate them and they only use a portion of the island.

"These birds are not picky. They'll go wherever the picking is good."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com or 395-8831.