Koheo wetland project receives permit for fencing

| February 1, 2013 | 0 Comments
An aerial view of the Ka La’i Ke Kioea Bird Sanctuary.

An aerial view of the Ka La’i Ke Kioea Bird Sanctuary.

Inconsistent application of SMA rules by Molokai Planning Commission never explained.

Constructing a wire fence to protect an established bird sanctuary from stray dogs is easy. Getting permission to do this from the Molokai Planning Commission requires a little more effort.

Before Arleone Dibben-Young, from the non-profit bird conservation group Nene O Molokai, could place 2,800 linear feet of predator exclusion fence around the Koheo wetland area east of Kaunakakai, the MoPC had to first grant a Special Management Area minor permit.

At the Sept. 26, 2012 MoPC meeting, neighbors, educators and conservationist testified in favor of this action, calling it a much-needed improvement. The group had already gone through the Army Corps of Engineers federal review process on this project. No one spoke against it.

The proposed fence is considered a minor structure made of hogwire and T-posts. The wetland is being used for environmental restoration, education and scientific research.

The proposed fence is considered a minor structure made of hogwire and T-posts. The wetland is being used for environmental restoration, education and scientific research.

Dibben-Young came prepared with a Powerpoint presentation to explain the work that had already been done on the Kohea wetland, known as the Ka La’i Ke Kioea Bird Sanctuary. The wetland, formed from the accretion of sediment accumulated from upslope erosion and windblown sand, has served as a bird habitat for decades. It offers a tranquil resting spot for the kioea, a bristle-thighed curlew, the official bird of Kaunakakai since October of 2011.

Back in 1989, the land was filled for a 30-lot subdivision to include 60 houses. The filled in dirt was removed in 2001 and restoration work soon began. The Sierra Club of Oahu visited twice a year to remove rubbish from the area. Students from the University if Hawaii-Hilo, worked on the restoration five days a year for five consecutive years. Molokai High School students helped remove invasive plant species and replace them with native plants. Nesting surveys and bird censuses were conducted by students. UH Manoa and the USDA Forest Service in Hilo conducted research three times a year for three consecutive years. They plan to begin new research on the area this year.

The Sierra Club of Oahu spent two days, twice a year for four consecutive years to clean up the rubbish in the wetlands. Photo courtesy Arleone Dibben-Young

The Sierra Club of Oahu spent two days, twice a year for four consecutive years to clean up the rubbish in the wetlands. Photo courtesy Arleone Dibben-Young

Yet the MoPC could not grant the permit. SMA rules require a certified shoreline survey prior to granting a minor permit. This permitting system, established in 1975 under the state Coastal Zone Management program, is intended to place local control over any development in shoreline areas. Even though the fencing project is considered a minor structure and not a development — and is also completely consistent with the objectives for the CZM program — the SMA rules still require the survey certification for a minor permit.

This type of survey typically costs $7,000-$10,000. For a non-profit group operating on a budget of $1,800 a year this would be difficult, said Dibben-Young.

Robert Roccogrande, who has lived on the wetland since 1987, testified in favor of the project. “Thank God Arleone is there to clean up this area,” he said. “It needs a fence to keep out the stray dogs. This woman has done tremendous work. She’s taught every kid on the island about this spot. She’s a rock star in my book.”

Students from UH Hilo spent five days a year for five consecutive years restoring the wetlands. On the bottom, students are caring for an endangered Hawaiian Stilt mauled by a dog. Photo courtesy Arleone Dibben-Young

Students from UH Hilo spent five days a year for five consecutive years restoring the wetlands. On the bottom, students are caring for an endangered Hawaiian Stilt mauled by a dog. Photo courtesy Arleone Dibben-Young

Heidi Jenkins, an educator on Molokai since 2004, has taken field trips with third and fourth graders to the wetlands over the years. “Students visiting Koheo learn the importance of wetlands. The fence serves as protection,” said Jenkins. “This also helps STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.” Jenkins discussed how students collect scientific data, study maps and study Ph levels. “This leads students to pursue careers in science.”

Former member of the MoPC, Bill Feeter, testified that the project, “enhances the community … we need it!”

Local architect Rich Young (Arleone’s husband) explained to the MoPC that minor structures are allowed in shoreline setback areas. “That is the key,” he said. “The shoreline certification is redundant. If the storage shed is the deal breaker it’s gone.”

Chairman of the Commission, John Sprinzel, explained that the Maui County Planning Department rules require the shoreline survey. “Exceptions don’t apply,” he said.

Despite this ruling, the MoPC did exactly that when granting an SMA assessment exemption to Lance “Kip” Dunbar in October of 2010 for the Pu’uone Waterbird Preserve Project. Dunbar, a former member of the MoPC, was not sitting on the Commission at the time. No one at the Sept. 26 meeting could provide an explanation as to why Dunbar was not required to do a certified shoreline survey for this similar project in the Kainalu area of East Molokai. One main difference between the two projects is that, in Kainalu, Dunbar conducted extensive dredging in order to restore the wetland.

“The county is in error,” said Dibben-Young. “They failed to follow their own rules with Dunbar.” Dibben-Young said that both her project and Dunbar’s went through the same federal review process prior to seeking an SMA permit but only her project is being held to the shoreline survey standard.

Local students conduct nesting surveys and bird censuses as part of their school science class. Photo courtesy Arleone Dibben-Young

Local students conduct nesting surveys and bird censuses as part of their school science class. Photo courtesy Arleone Dibben-Young

Two weeks after the Sept. 26 meeting, the MoPC met again and approved the SMA permit for the Koheo wetland. The permit also allows for a 120-square foot storage shed set on pre-cast concrete blocks, along with ongoing maintenance of the existing drainage way.

However, the MoPC did not waive the shoreline survey certification requirement and gave the SMA permit with the condition that it be completed within one year.

Dibben-Young said she never received an explanation for the inconsistent application of the SMA permitting process. “I’m still waiting for an answer,” she said. “I just wanted him (Dunbar) to be treated the same. The rules, as they are written, cannot give any exceptions.”

Dibben-Young said the shoreline survey has been completed and they are now waiting for the certification. Corner posts are now being set and invasive species are still being removed.

To help pay for the certification, Nene O Molokai is accepting donations. The tax-deductible donations can be sent to Nene O Molokai at P.O. Box 580, Kaunakakai, Hawaii 96748. For more information on this project, call Dibben-Young at 553-5992.

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