Kauai to resumePORT ALLEN, Kauai >> A fiery battle over the future of a rarely used airfield on the west side of Kauai is about to reignite.
fight over states
An impact report and
a bill may let plans for
Burns Field proceed
By Anthony Sommer
The state Airports Division this week unveiled an environmental assessment of its plans to add helicopter pads to Burns Field adjacent to Port Allen.
Meanwhile, Kauai County is getting ready to go to court to enforce a citation the county handed the state for allowing construction at Burns Field without county special management area permits.
On Tuesday, the state Legislature is scheduled to vote on a bill that would allow airport improvements to be made without the approval of county agencies and exempts them from county special management area permit requirements for construction in coastal zones. Instead, each County Council would be given 45 days to approve or disapprove state airport construction plans.
Supporters of the bill, including Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), chairman of the Transportation Committee, said public input under the state's review process for airport projects is adequate, and "it is unnecessary also to require the approval of any county agency."
The two major airport expansion battles in recent years have been fought over Kahului Airport on Maui and Lihue Airport on Kauai. The fights ended when the airlines, which ultimately would have had to pay for the longer runways, told the state they did not want them.
Less conspicuous has been the fight over Burns Field.
Built in 1929, Burns Field once was Kauai's primary airport. It is now only an asphalt runway on an otherwise vacant piece of land. The only company that uses it regularly is Air-1 Helicopters.
Two years ago, the Airports Division announced Burns Field was "underutilized," and proposed constructing new hangars and operations buildings and moving some of the helicopter tour companies stationed at Lihue Airport.
Support from most of the Lihue helicopter companies was lukewarm, and many Port Allen area residents opposed the increase in air traffic.
The issue went before the Kauai Planning Commission when the state asked for a special management area permit.
Wilma Holi, representing her family and other native Hawaiians who still gather salt at the ponds adjacent to Burns Field, asked the commission for a contested-case hearing and took the state to court over the issue.
She said a fuel spill could pollute the salt ponds. The state responded that in 70 years of operation, the salt ponds always have been protected from contamination.
Holi argued that the Airports Division's original environmental assessment was flawed because it did not discuss a "do nothing" option or the option of moving Air-1 to Lihue Airport and closing Burns Field.
The court agreed and ordered the Airports Division to write a new environmental assessment. The Planning Commission put the matter on hold until an approved assessment was completed.
Meanwhile, last year the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which owns the land adjacent to Burns Field that Air-1 had been using as its base of operations, terminated its lease with Air-1.
Air-1 owner Ken D'Attilio said that left him nowhere to go but to Burns Field because other helicopter tour companies already are using all the space at Lihue Airport.
Air-1 is the sole contractor for flying rescue missions for the Kauai Fire Department and narcotics surveillance for the Kauai Police Department. It also has contracts with the state to fly parks and forestry crews into remote work sites.
"I have to be able to go somewhere," D'Attilio said.
Late last year, the Airports Division allowed D'Attilio to move a large truck trailer outfitted as an office onto Burns Field.
D'Attilio insists it is a "vehicle" and not a "structure," and thus not subject to special management area permits.
The county responded in January by issuing the state a citation.
So far, the state has ignored the county and this week published its new environmental assessment for expanding Burns Field.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.