MAKENA - The economy might still be in a funk, but the would-be developers of South Maui's Honua'ula, formerly known as Wailea 670, are moving forward with plans to construct the $1.2 billion project with 1,400 homes and apartments, an 18-hole golf course, commercial space, trails and parks.
The development group recently made public its draft environmental impact statement, a three-volume document containing 2,380 pages of information, pictures, building designs, spreadsheets and maps. It's been almost two years since the Maui County Council approved the rezoning and amendments necessary for the decades-old plan to move ahead.
But that was right about the time the housing market bubble burst, and almost no one has been building on Maui ever since. The deadline for comments on the draft EIS is June 7; and the first homes are expected to be completed in two years, said owners' representative Charles Jencks on Wednesday.
"We'll have something out there by then," he said.
The developers said once they have final plan and permit approval, it will take 13 years to complete Honua'ula.
"When we've completed our three phases and get approval for our various plans (such as for water, sewage treatment and cultural resources preservation) and this comes to an end, we will finally be able to build something," Jencks said. "And that is going to be exciting."
According to the draft EIS, the developers plan to pay out $480 million in employee wages during construction by supplying 9,537 "worker years." One worker year is the equivalent of 2,080 hours on the job spread across 365 days, or the most hours a full-time worker can submit annually.
Maui County also will receive $41.8 million in net tax revenue during the construction phase and $1.6 million annually in taxes after the project is completed, according to the draft environmental impact study.
Honua'ula also plans to provide 518 jobs after construction is completed at the various infrastructure facilities, recreational activities and retail establishments. In addition, Honua'ula will give the county $5 million toward its new South Maui Regional Community Park and then build and maintain its own parks on site.
The ownership group includes Woodrich Capital, D.E. Shaw Group, Cargill Inc. and Goodfellow Bros. Inc., Jencks said. Almost two years ago, they bought out the now-defunct Lehman Brothers investment bankers' shares as well as the original Japanese investors, Jencks said.
"What we have is a very strong, heavily capitalized partnership," Jencks said.
Partnership members hope to be done with the EIS process by the end of 2010 and then apply for building permits, he said. However, before a nail can be pounded, the project need other government permits - for example, having the state Department of Health approve plans for wastewater reclamation, the state Department of Transportation approve plans to extend Piilani Highway and approval of its EIS by the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, the Maui Planning Commission and the county Department of Planning.
Planning Department Deputy Director Ann Cua said the Maui Planning Commission recently received the draft EIS. Commission members are scheduled to begin reviewing the document on June 22, she said.
Although the plans continue to call for half of the homes on the 670-acre lot to be affordably priced under federal guidelines, Honua'ula remains controversial. Critics say the project would build in an area of 143 acres of native plants as well as 40 archaeological sites. Today, the area's main use is for cattle grazing.
Environmentalists, Native Hawaiian practitioners and some nearby residents also maintain that Honua'ula is unnecessary and would create problems such as adding traffic to Piilani Highway (which the developers plan to extend and widen on their own) as well as putting greater demands on existing water sources and any nearby wastewater treatment plants.
But Honua'ula officials said they plan to drill their own wells for both potable and nonpotable water needs, which are estimated to be more than 1 million gallons a day, and probably build their own wastewater treatment plant. Honua'ula will likely use the treated wastewater to water lawns and golf links.
Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter Vice President Lucienne de Naie said she remains skeptical of the draft EIS. On Wednesday, she said she's read the draft environmental study and finds it incomplete.
"I only wish it was a lot more forthcoming," de Naie said.
For instance, she said, the native species habitat preservation plan would allow the developers to plow under rare plants or keep them isolated across dozens of acres, except on mostly disconnected plots. De Naie said that is one example in which the draft study "does not honor the spirit of the EIS process."
The developers have not said exactly what they plan to do as far as drilling for water and building a wastewater treatment plant, de Naie said.
But Jencks disputed that. It's all there in the EIS, he said, more than 17 in-depth studies on subjects such as archaeology, marine life and groundwater resources.
"It's a very complete document," Jencks said. "It's what we represented in the past, and it's a full-disclosure document."
Meanwhile, Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow Foundation, which has fought the project for years, said the project's archaeological study remains unfinished and should be completed before it should go before the State Historic Preservation Division for review and approval.
However, Jencks said his team has completed an exhaustive survey and identified all archaeological sites in the area, all of which will be protected.
If Honua'ula begins construction, it would come after nearly 40 years of planning, debate and controversy. The plans have been under discussion and study since 1973, when several developers in succession tried - and failed - to get the project built.
The Honua'ula project area sits between the existing Maui Meadows subdivision and the planned Makena Resort development project, which is currently in foreclosure until a sale scheduled for May 28.
Honua'ula's full draft EIS can be found online on the Department of Health's Office of Environmental Quality Control website at: oeqc.doh.hawaii. gov/Shared%20Documents/
Forms/AllItems.aspx?Root Folder=%2fShared%20Docu ments%2fEA%5fand%5fEIS%5fOnline%5fLibrary%2fMaui%2f2010s&View=%7bC0C5C897%2d3066%2d4821%2d864E%2d36FB3D77F5D5%7d.
Prior to the deadline, comments on the draft EIS can be sent to the owner's representative, Charles Jencks, c/o Goodfellow Bros. Inc., P.O. Box 20, Kihei 96753; planning consultant, PBR Hawaii, 1001 Bishop St., Honolulu 96813; and the Maui County Planning Department, 250 South High St., Wailuku 96793.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.