Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Lihue runway
extension talks
pushed back to July

By Anthony Sommer


LIHUE -- A series of "conflict assessment" meetings between a team of state mediators and Kauai groups for and against extension of the Lihue Airport main runway has been rescheduled for early July.

The series of meetings originally was slated for April by the Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution, an arm of the state Judiciary.

The agency was asked to intervene by the Kauai County Council in hopes of avoiding a Maui-like protracted battle between environmentalists and the business community over lengthening the runway.

"We had to postpone everything because of a bill before the Legislature that would have stripped the counties of any authority over airport expansion and given the power to the state," said County Council Chairman Ron Kouchi, who championed the mediation process.

The bill, strongly supported by pro-growth business interests who want longer runways on Maui and Kauai so that jumbo jets can land on both islands, died late in the session.

"Now that the bill is dead, we can get started," Kouchi said.

Faced with protests from anti-growth groups, Kouchi and the rest of the Council in March backed away from endorsing lengthening the runway far in advance of the state producing an environmental impact statement. The mediation process was a compromise that appealed to both sides.

The first series of meetings is designed to determine whether the three-member panel believes mediation efforts will be worthwhile.

The team consists of Hawaii Justice Foundation Executive Director Peter Adler, University of Hawaii urban planning professor Kem Lowry and UH political science professor Neal Milner.

Meanwhile, there has been an even bigger delay in the state Department of Transportation's plan to unveil the first draft of its environmental impact statement later this month, with public hearings on runway expansion tentatively scheduled for July.

The agency now is looking at making the draft document public in December, with public hearings in February 2000. It is hoping for a final decision from the Federal Aviation Agency by late September 2000.

Lihue's existing 6,500-foot runway is not long enough for safe takeoffs by fully loaded jumbo jets.

A charter airline flies into Lihue with a DC-10 every Friday but it must depart with only a small fuel load and stop at Honolulu to refuel before returning to San Francisco.

The Department of Transportation's master plan calls for an extension of the runway to 8,500 feet by 2005 but the state now is considering a 10,000-foot runway instead. That would allow jumbo jets to fly to Lihue nonstop from New York and Tokyo.

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