Ala Wai work
A state environmental office urges
the city to halt construction
until a meeting next week
A state office has asked the city to halt construction of a $2.4 million project for Ala Wai Boulevard until a hearing next week on whether the plan should undergo an environmental assessment.
City Managing Director Ben Lee said last night that he had not seen the Office of Environmental Quality Control's request, which was included in a letter dated Monday to Tim Steinberger, city Department of Design and Construction director.
He also declined to comment on whether the Harris administration would consider delaying the project. "I can't comment on it (the letter) until I get a chance to see it," Lee said, adding that he would talk to Steinberger today or tomorrow about the request.
Work on the Ala Wai project began Monday and coincides with a $19 million Kuhio Ave-nue project under way since February. Some Waikiki residents have criticized the project as an unnecessary inconvenience that will disrupt traffic and remove much-needed parking spaces.
In her letter to Steinberger, Environmental Quality Control Director Genevieve Salmonson wrote that "in the interest of a fair and balanced consideration of the environmental issues involved," the Ala Wai construction should be delayed until a state Environmental Council hearing on Thursday.
At the meeting, the council is set to hear from a group of Waikiki residents who say the Ala Wai project will substantially harm the community. The council will also likely make a recommendation on whether the Ala Wai plan should undergo an environmental assessment.
But the city is not obligated to follow the council's advice, which has been ignored in the past.
The council never weighed in initially on whether an assessment was needed for the Ala Wai work because the city exempted itself from the process, a common practice for small projects.
Salmonson, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has told the Star-Bulletin that all agencies "exempt certain projects."
City spokeswoman Carol Costa said yesterday that the project does not need an environmental assessment because no traffic lanes are affected. But concrete landscaping hubs are set to be installed in the boulevard's far-right parking lane, which was open to traffic during peak hours as late as May.
The Ala Wai project extends from the Waikiki-Kapahulu Public Library to about 110 feet before the McCully Street bridge. It also includes installation of a bike lane and the removal of about 60 free parking spaces along the Ala Wai Canal, which the city hopes to make up with two planned municipal lots.
Robert Kessler, a member of the group scheduled to go before the Environmental Council next week, was happy to hear about Salmonson's letter yesterday and said he hoped the city will act on the request.
"Naturally, I'm encouraged," he said. "I think the fact that the Environmental Quality Control office made that communication with the city says that they think our claim might have merit."
City Councilman Charles Djou is also pushing for a delay in construction while the council takes up the issue. In a news release issued yesterday, he called the project "a waste of taxpayer resources."
"I am concerned the city administration may have violated environmental regulations in its rush to ram through the Ala Wai project," said Djou, whose district includes Waikiki. "I hope the mayor does the right thing and halts this project pending a hearing and ruling by the Office of Environmental Quality Control."
Meanwhile, Kessler said his group is also looking into the possibility of filing a temporary restraining order to stop the project. He said the group has "a draft pretty much in place" and could file the restraining order as early as next week.