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Permit sought to realign Papaka

Auwahi Wind Energy will go before the state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday to seek a conservation district use permit to realign Papaka Road on Ulupalakua Ranch land.

“The use of Papaka Road for the transportation of large and heavy deliveries will require modifications to the existing ranch road network including, at various segments, widening, smoothing out horizontal and vertical curves, and the construction of drainage improvements,” a staff submittal says. “The entire road will be resurfaced with all-weather gravel.”

DLNR’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands Division is recommending approval of the permit.

The conservation district use permit addresses a short section of the project access road and a small part of the overall wind farm, but it’s an “important component of the project,” said Scott Crider, spokesman for Sempra Generation, the San Diego-based company that owns Auwahi Wind. “We’re looking forward to reaching this milestone.”

“We’re pleased with the favorable recommendation from staff,” he said.

Project plans call for building a wind farm with the capacity to generate 21 megawatts, or enough power to supply electricity to 10,000 homes. The $140 million project’s infrastructure includes an energy storage system; a 9-mile, 34.5-kilovolt power line; an interconnection substation; a microwave communication tower; and a construction access road.

Each generator pad would require about 2.4 acres of cleared area, while the entire project would cover more than 1,400 acres.

Papaka Road via Wailea-Makena is one of two delivery routes for components of the eight 428-foot-tall wind turbines. On the other route, trucks will travel Upcountry via Kula Highway and access the project site from Piilani Highway.

Crider said the Papaka Road route would handle heavier loads, including the wind turbine parts and large equipment while the Kula Highway route would take “general construction” traffic, including employees traveling to the work site and deliveries of light loads.

Project managers were working to finalize the wind farm’s construction transportation plan, which aims to minimize traffic impacts, he said.

“We will continue to reach out to the community as we have since day one,” Crider said. “We’ll make sure they’re fully aware of what to expect.”

Some construction, such as work on a meteorological tower and a water well, will begin as early as next week, he said. Major components are expected to arrive in late March or early April.

The project is expected to be completed around the end of this year.

The Papaka Road realignment project would affect a 2,347-foot portion of the road in the state conservation district. The segment is a fraction of the entire 4.6-mile construction access road. The road would be aligned to avoid natural and cultural resources, such as archaeological sites.

The existing Ulupalakua Ranch road is located in cattle pasture lands dominated by non-native grass vegetation, according to a staff submittal to the land board.

In June, the Public Utilities Commission approved a 20-year contract for Maui Electric Co. to purchase power from the Auwahi Wind project. In November, the Maui Planning Commission approved special use and special management area permits for the wind farm.

The Auwahi project is forecast to create 150 construction jobs at its peak and five full-time positions to operate the facility.

The land board’s meeting begins at 9 a.m. Friday in the board’s Conference Room 132 in the Kalanimoku Building at 1151 Punchbowl St. in Honolulu. Auwahi’s permit request is among more than two dozen items that also are on the board’s agenda.

Another Maui item on the board agenda is a request by Kaheawa Wind Power to amend its “incidental take license” as part of the project’s habitat conservation plan. The amendment reflects changes in the number of Hawaiian petrels and Newell’s shearwaters that can be impacted by the wind farm. Staff from the DLNR’s Forestry and Wildlife Division has recommended approval of the change.

Work is ongoing at the Kaheawa wind farm to add 14 new turbines as well as battery backup and transmission lines. When the project is completed, the farm will be able to add 51 megawatts of power at peak output.

The land board also will hear a request to approve a two-year contract with the Zoological Society of San Diego to provide services to operate an endangered bird captive propagation facility, the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Olinda and to provide expertise in conducting ongoing bird propagation projects at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island. The society has $925,000 in federal funds for the project.

Forestry and Wildlife Division officials recommend the board authorize DLNR Chairman William Aila Jr. to negotiate and execute a contract for the services, subject to federal funding, and that the board officially declare that the project would have minimal or no significant environmental impact.