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Drone officials plan to submit new application

Project is also expected to undergo environmental review

Project officials plan to resubmit an application for the Hawk30 program, which is seeking to use agricultural lands on Lanai to develop and test two high-altitude platform drones.

The project had received public opposition and a notice of violation from the Lanai Planning Commission for constructing a second airstrip without county permits or approvals.

Hawk30 — a 260-foot-wide unmanned aircraft — is privately funded by HAPSMobile Inc. and Softbank of Japan, AeroVironment, and Alphabet, a parent company of Google.

The Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii recently withdrew its original use determination application for the project, and officials now plan to apply for a special use permit instead.

“The original application I think was put together swiftly and without a lot of legal review,” said Jonathan Moore, the attorney who is representing HAPSmobile Inc. and Softbank. “We thought that the application should be withdrawn and should be resubmitted as a special use permit application. We are going to more thoroughly explain how (agriculture) is going to work within the project.”

After the withdrawal earlier this month, the Land Use Commission preliminarily reviewed landowner Pulama Lanai’s new application for a district boundary amendment, seeking a larger parcel that includes the previously proposed land, which was 215 acres off of Kaupili Road, according to a news release on Thursday.

Moore indicated that they will be preparing an environmental assessment for the new proposed application, and that “5G networking is definitely off the table.”

The new application is estimated to be ready by Nov. 1, with new test flight operations slated for March.

The goal of Hawk30 is to develop and test the airworthiness of two high-altitude platform drones, as well as test long-duration flights over deep valleys, remote land areas and the ocean, solely powered by solar and electricity.

“All the people involved want to be good citizens,” Moore said. “So we want to take a step back, withdraw the application and resubmit it in a way that fully explains what we’re doing, and do an environmental assessment and hopefully reach some kind of understanding with the petitioners before the new application.”

Hawaiian cultural practitioners Sol Kaho’ohalahala, Lynette Kaopuiki and La’ikealoha Soriano-Hanog, represented by attorneys Lance Collins and Bianca Isaki, had petitioned the planning commission to intervene, arguing that stratospheric unmanned aircraft testing is not an appropriate use of agricultural land. In a news release on Thursday, the attorneys said that the project would use the lands as “a second airport for science experiments.”

“Using these processes to get a de facto variance for industrial uses on agricultural and conservation lands should be strongly discouraged by land use agencies at the state and local level,” Isaki said in the news release.

Last Month, Collins wrote a letter to Maui County Planning Director Michele McLean questioning whether the commission could consider the application or petitions until environmental review was completed because RCUH is a state agency, and funding for the project would come from its special fund.

“Without having the appropriate environmental review document, it will be impossible for the public or decision-makers to be appropriately informed as required by law,” Collins said of the original application.

Collins also mentioned that Hawk30 would fall under the airport prohibition in Hawaii Revised Statutes 205-4.5, which is in the context of allowing agricultural land to be used as “public and private open area types of recreational uses but prohibits airports, golf course, drive-in theatres” and so forth.

George Purdy, co-owner of Drone Services Hawaii who helped bring the program to Lanai, declined to comment.

Local concerns

Kaho’ohalahala’s family residence is located just a couple miles away from the Hawk30 operations site. He was concerned about protecting his property, cultural practices and home.

According to a petition by the cultural practitioners, Kaho’ohalahala “is interested in supporting more agricultural uses of Lanai lands and, along with other community residents, has requested that other government agencies and landowners make more agricultural and pastoral lands available to Lanai homestead beneficiaries.”

Petitioners Kaopuiki and Soriano-Hanog, both born and raised on Lanai, also filed similar complaints with the proposed project.

As a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and as a kumu hula, Kaopuiki uses the area for “traditional and customary practices, including gathering plants and other items for use in her hula halau, ohana meeting and for traditional medicine.”

Soriano-Hanog is also a teacher, utilizing the land for cultural and traditional practices. She is also opposed to the Hawk30 project because of the increase in noise from aircraft operations, as well as the potential for aircraft crashes.

“Soriano-Hanog also has interests in seeing Lanai families able to sustain themselves as a community by growing food for agricultural lands and ensuring that the rural lifestyle of Lanai is not overrun with inappropriate development of land uses,” the petition stated. “She is specifically concerned that the proposed drone aircraft and airport will adversely affect Lanai communities, her family, and her cultural practices.”

Maui County residents who are against the project expressed worry over the dangers of 4G and 5G wireless radiation, the use of Lanai as a testing ground for Hawk30 and issues surrounding the speed of the project.

“It’s a really big deal. It’s a massive project that has a huge impact on these islands, impact that goes far beyond the confines of Lanai,” said South Maui resident Debra Greene, founder of an online petition at KeepYourPower.org/drone.

The petition has received 836 signatures so far, with a goal of 1,000.

Greene also mentioned some concerns that the agencies “seem to be not acting in good faith” for constructing the second airstrip and storage structure without the appropriate permits.

A temporary 12,000-square-foot storage tent for both unmanned aircrafts was also mentioned in the original land use determination proposal, along with three temporary fieldwork office trailers. The storage tent turned out to be an estimated 16,500 square feet, which was built late-June.

“It’s this massive structure on agricultural land and it’s designed to house two of these football field-sized drones and they built that thing without any public notice, without any consulting, and they built it prior to the planning commission meeting,” she said.

RCUH proposed that the project could provide information through wireless networking relative to “ungulate control, watershed characterization and inshore water health.”

During Phase 1, according to the original proposal, Hawk 30 would depart and land between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. when there are no Lanai Airport flight operations, for up to three test flights.

Phase 2 could last about two years, which involves similar long-duration flights.

Phase 3 is anticipated to finalize operations and slowly position the drones throughout the Equatorial Belt.

Greene said that Hawaiian practitioners have fought to intervene in the application because of concerns over “cultural practices and prohibited use of agricultural land for airport purposes.

“When you have an island that is 98 percent owned, and when you have a project like this that involves Google and other high-tech operations with other countries, it creates concerns among the other people who live on Lanai,” Greene said. “It creates a challenging situation.”

If parts of the Hawk30 malfunction, objects like “lithium batteries and propeller blades” could plummet down to Maui County, she said, which “would turn into something potentially very, very destructive” to the land and the ocean below.

The Federal Aviation Administration-approved flight zones include South Maui, Lanai, Molokini and Kahoolawe. The flight area also includes part of the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, a habitat that Greene emphasized the importance of protecting.

“None of these things are that farfetched,” she said.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.