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Army Corps official explains proposed restoration of Loko o Mokuhinia

By Staff | Sep 19, 2013

LAHAINA – The deadline to respond to the Draft Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Assessment for the Mokuhinia Ecosystem Restoration Project is on Monday, Sept. 23.

“The proposed action,” the report reads, “is to restore a portion of the aquatic ecosystem that historically occurred within Loko o Mokuhinia. Specific activities would include excavation (approximately 3.5 to 4.5 feet of material, primarily fill), grading to establish wetland slopes and micro-topography, installation of a groundwater well and pump to supplement groundwater levels, installation of native wetland vegetation, and installation of a perimeter fence to provide predator control.”

At a public meeting held earlier this month at Lahaina Civic Center, the community was informed about the proposed project’s logistics by presenter Athline Clark of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE).

The power point presentation commenced with background information about the cultural and historical significance of the national landmark.

Located in the town of Lahaina at the south end of the Historic District in the 500 block of Front Street on the mauka side, “Mokuhinia was the home of Kihawahine, who was the guardian spirit of Maui’s royal family from the time of Pi’ilani,” Clark said.

Loko o Mokuhinia, a fresh spring water fed pond, surrounded the sacred island sanctuary of Moku’ula.

“Moku’ula was the royal residence of King Kamehameha and also part of the ali’i nui of Maui since the 1500s at the time of Pi’ilani,” Clark added.

“Historically, it was part of a system of coastal wetlands that was integrated throughout the whole Lahaina district and also all the way up the West Maui coast.

“It was filled in as part of a public project,” Clark continued, “and it was filled in because of health concerns about mosquitos and other things in the early 1900s.”

“The state executive ordered it to the county as public park area in 1918.”

Clark further explained how the ACOE became involved with the restoration of Loko o Mokuhinia.

“The County of Maui came to us in 2003 and said we would like you to take a look at what it would take to restore the water or the wai to this site. What kind of a process it would take to restore the system of wetland and pond that was there previously,” she said.

By way of an introduction to the ACOE qualifications and experience, Clark explained that in recent years, the ACOE has spent billions of dollars on ecosystem restoration across the nation – “places like the Everglades and Puget Sound and Louisiana and places like that, we’ve done a lot of.

“As part of our planning process and feasibility study and environmental review, we’re looking for what does it take in order for this site to be considered to be an important site for the federal government to continue to be part of the process,” she advised.

Translating to dollars, funding for the ecosystem restoration from the federal government is contingent on, in this case, providing habitat for stilts and coots, endangered water birds, she explained.

“We think that the preliminary costs for the entire project – so that’s including what’s already been spent for all the technical studies and what it will cost to get all the way to final design and build – is about $11 million…” she told the gathering.

The price tag for the annual maintenance of the 8.5-acre site, she said, is about $50,000.

Questions answered in the ACOE feasibility study were noted: is there enough ground water? Is there an outlet in the event of a heavy rain? What kind of native endemic vegetation to plant in the wetland? What kind of a fence to install around the loko to protect the birds in this highly urbanized environment?

“We looked at a bunch of different considerations, and we put together a conceptual design that targets the habitat conditions for the stilt and the coot,” she summarized.

“We’re not going to work on the moku (Moku’ula) at all,” she added.

There would be a ten-meter buffer between the loko and the sacred island to protect archaeological resources, she said.

“We have proposed a process,” Clark described, “so that we understand the sacredness of the site. We understand that every component of this site from the water to Kihawahine, etc. is incredibly important; and so, in our process, we’re looking at developing an archeological monitoring plan, ensuring that there is someone there the entire time.

“Next steps,” Clark finalized, “public comment period ends on September 23. (Then) We would do response to the public comments.”

“Ideally,” Clark added, if all funding is available, and if agreements are signed with the county and other parties, “we would start the design phase around October of our fiscal year ’15, which is about 2014.”

“It would take two years to go through the whole design phase… We’re not going to shovel the ground anytime soon,” the ACOE project manager added.

Hard copies of the report and EA are available at Lahaina, Kahului and Wailuku Public Library. Electronic copies are posted at the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) Environmental Bulletin (Aug. 23 edition) and through the project website at www.mokuhiniaproject.com.

According to Clark, the ACOE is projecting completion of all of its studies by the end of the year.

A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is expected.

“If approved and funded,” a press release announced, “it is currently anticipated that construction of the project would be completed in 2018, following which post-construction performance monitoring would be conducted for up to 10 years. Long-term operations and maintenance activities would be performed within the site by the County of Maui.”

Copies of comments should be sent to the following parties: Zeke Kalua, County of Maui, 200 South High St., Wailuku, HI 96793; Athline Clark, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District, Building 230, Ft. Shafter, HI 96858-5440; and Lisa Kettley, CH2M HILL, 1132 Bishop St., Suite 1100, Honolulu, HI 96813.