TOC Predicts Overkill On Marsh Plan

The comments below are from The Outdoor Circle after it reviewed the draft of the revised Kawainui Marsh master plan. Author is Kailua resident Leigh Prentiss, who heads TOC’s public affairs. Also, Kailua Neighborhood Board has appointed a committee to examine the state’s public participation process on the marsh development, based on “the apparent discrepancy between comments and testimony given by a number of Kailua and statewide organizations and the actual design and provisions of the state’s draft plan.”

Over the last few years, a draft of the revised Master Plan for Kawainui Marsh has been presented at public meetings and hearings sponsored by State Parks, DOFAW and their paid consultants. Each began by noting the marsh’s designation as a wetland of international importance, the role it plays in flood control, habitat for endangered water-birds and its historic, archaeological and cultural significance.

Their pictures always showed a broad expanse of low-lying land under a clear sky with a line of blue ocean in the distance. Often, superimposed on this idyllic scene were images of the endangered ‘alae ke’oke’o, ‘alae ‘ula, koloa maoli and ae’o (Hawaiian stilt).

But this picture has changed in the most recent master plan draft. Consultants Helber Hastert & Fee now offer drawings of landscaped parking lots, pavilions, boardwalks, trails and buildings.

These ring the periphery of the marsh beginning at the entrance bridge to Kailua, following a trail behind the neighborhood to Ulupo heiau, then below the neighborhood along church row, past the newly built Army Corps of Engineers ponds, along Kapa’a Quarry Road, down to Mokapu Boulevard and, if the proposed bridge is built, back along the levee to Kailua town.

Public access and recreation are key components as well as sites for select stewardship groups to manage cultural and educational centers.

Education and access to the marsh for Hawaiians to engage in cultural practices have been supported by the community. But many are asking if buildings and pavement within it are best for the wetland’s future. Unregulated marsh access already has led to damage of archaeological sites. Trails will attract dog walkers, and dogs can devastate the nests of endangered birds.

Buildings require bulldozing the land, and although steps have been proposed to prevent runoff, most of the sites are upslope and will flood and overflow in heavy rains. Sediment runoff would harm the aquatic life that feeds endangered birds.

The trail system, parking lots and buildings are needed for visitors to better appreciate the marsh, the consultants argue, and it looks like DLNR might favor a visitor destination modeled after Hanauma Bay or Polynesian Cultural Center because they believe development and tourism will attract funding.

Certainly, DLNR needs more money for staff, maintenance and enforcement, and it is impressive what they are doing with the limited resources they have. But DLNR would be the first to tell us that runoff from parking lots is harmful to the wetlands and that removal of vegetation to make way for buildings creates another set of environmental problems.

Before we get carried away, perhaps we can all step back and ask: If we build this, will the water be cleaner in 50 years, will the waterbirds increase, will our children still have a beautiful and wild wetland to explore and will the Hawaiian community still have a marsh that does justice to the spirit of Hauwahine, the legendary mo’o who assured there would be enough to eat if the marsh and fishponds were properly maintained?