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Developers Rethink Project Approvals In Wake of Protests

Amy Nakamura

Protests are continuing against three separate projects in Hawaii. That’s led people who work with infrastructure development to rethink how they engage the public.

Pacific Business News recently held a roundtable discussion with government and industry leaders involved with rail, TheBus, harbors and other development projects. One topic that was top of mind was the way three projects which seemed to have public support now face intense protests — The Thirty-Meter Telescope on Hawaii Island, the Na Makani Wind Project in Kahuku and the park facility in Waimanalo.

Eric Wright, senior vice president of Par Hawaii Inc., says his company is working on a sustainability project with a non-profit partner and the management team has gathered specifically to discuss whether or not they have the public support they think they have. “It’s changed the way we’ve approached things,” says Wright. Joyce Oliviera, deputy executive director of HART, says her agency is beefing up what it calls “business outreach on steroids” as the rail project gets closer to starting construction in town.

The roundtable agreed that one risk big projects run is the time gap between the end of the public input process and the start of construction. By the time bulldozers arrive, people are shocked and community leaders who might’ve supported the project aren’t necessarily still in place. Communication needs to be constant.

Kathleen Rooney, transportation systems manager for Ulupono initiative, suggests that public projects even need to change the way they begin. Says Rooney, “There is a tendency to say, ‘we have this project, what do you think’ instead of ‘we have this problem, how can we all solve it together?”

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