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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Oahu can't support Turtle Bay expansion

By Bob Nakata

The proposed massive expansion of the Turtle Bay Resort by Oaktree Capital Management LLC, and its subsidiary, Kuilima Resort Co., threatens to turn O'ahu into one continuous urban center. The huge impact it will have on traffic will make it impossible to feel like you are in the "country" anywhere on O'ahu.

Today, we can get the "country feel" along the 50-mile stretch between Wahiawa and Kane'ohe. The traffic impact on the two lanes of Kamehameha Highway on that entire 50 miles or so from 2,000 luxury condominiums, 1,500 more hotel rooms, and 3,000 employees and their families living in that stretch will slow it to a crawl at rush hours and weekends. For residents of the area, getting on to the highway at those times will be hell, not to mention the problems it will create for local emergency responders.

There are no city and county or state plans to widen the highway for the next 20 years. Both are committed to billions of dollars for the mass-transit system and expanded highways for urban Honolulu, 'Ewa/Kapolei, and Central O'ahu. Neither would be able to handle the cost of a widened Kamehameha Highway from Wahiawa to Kane'ohe, which would probably cost more than $100 million. Potential disruptions to all the communities along that route (Hale'iwa, Waimea, the North Shore, Kahuku, La'ie, Hau'ula, Punalu'u, Ka'a'awa, Waiahole, Waikane, and Kahalu'u) will make it nearly impossible.

Widening Kamehameha would be necessary to deal with the increased traffic. At several locations, e.g. Waimea Bay and near the Crouching Lion in Ka'a'awa, massive grading or bypasses will be required. Crossing the highway to go to the beach and beach parks will become very hazardous for pedestrians, especially children. Traffic will be moving faster but there will be a need for traffic lights at most intersections.

The likelihood of global warming also has a potential impact on Kamehameha Highway, which further precludes the logic of and ability to widen it. There are a number of low stretches that will be inundated by even a small rise in sea level. Some are even now subject to erosion by wave action during storms. These are areas where even today the highway acts as a dike holding seawater back from homes and farm land. Not to mention the many homes that would have to be relocated to accommodate the widened highway.

The cost of these "improvements" will be paid by us taxpayers, and not Oaktree, Kuilima, or Turtle Bay. In fact, the state Legislature just appropriated $350,000 for "land acquisition for a left-turn lane on Kamehameha Highway into Kuilima Drive (the resort entrance), replacing O'io Stream Bridge, and other related improvements." The bill justified the expense as "necessary to qualify for federal aid financing and/or reimbursement." (See item no. 61 of the 2007 House Bill 500 HD1, SD1, CD1). This is surprising since the Unilateral Agreement between the City and County of Honolulu and the developer, which established duties of the developer in return for the zoning changes for the project, specifically includes the construction of a left-turn storage and deceleration lanes on Kamehameha Highway, among other improvements, at the developer's expense. The public should be informed as to why this appropriation was made in light of the duties of the developer under the Unilateral Agreement.

Other infrastructure issues abound. Hawai'i's unemployment rate is so low, where are the workers going to come from? The 3,000 new employees will live in the communities between Wahiawa and Kane'ohe, for the most part, causing rents to rise. We are already suffering from a lack of affordable housing. Additionally, more medical clinics, sewers, shopping facilities, school rooms and parks will be needed.

Further reason for not allowing the expansion of this resort, or downsizing it at the very least, is the strong possibility of disturbing the burial sites of Native Hawaiians. The developers are resisting doing a thorough survey for such sites, which could cause work stoppages or the relocation of hotels and condos if found during construction.

Turtle Bay's developer is now pressing forward to get detailed infrastructure permits from the city's Department of Planning and Permitting. The city should not issue those permits without finding out where the burial sites are. They should also take a thorough, realistic look at the effects on the island's infrastructure, including Kamehameha Highway from Kane'ohe to Wahiawa, before allowing the project to go any further.

Today, even the tourist industry itself is questioning whether it is getting too big for its own good. Meanwhile, the public seems to be saying that the state is being run for that industry. Can the island of O'ahu comfortably support a third major resort destination? Can it afford the infrastructure for that third major resort? Our answer is No.

Bob Nakata is a board member of the Defend O'ahu Coalition. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.