HOUSE FINANCE COMMITTEE VISITS KAUAʻI
KAUAʻI – Members of the House Finance Committee, led by Chair Kyle T. Yamashita, and the Kauaʻi delegation consisting of House Majority Leader Nadine K. Nakamura, House Majority Floor Leader Dee Morikawa, and Representative Luke A. Evslin made its way to the Garden Isle to view firsthand several projects and programs supported by the Legislature. During the site visit, committee members met with stakeholders to learn about community needs and identify key priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Here are some highlights of the site visits during November 1 – 2, 2023:
Wailua Reservoir Dam
Located off Kuamoʻo Road and approximately five miles mauka of Kūhi‘ō Highway, the Wailua Reservoir was originally built a century ago to provide water for Kauaʻi's sugar industry. With the sugar plantations no longer in operation, the reservoir now serves as a public fishing spot. Local residents possessing a valid freshwater game fishing license frequent this area during the day, with each licensee allowed to catch up to three fish per day.
The House Committee on Finance visited the reservoir to receive an update from the Department of Land and Natural Resources – Land Division. The discussion primarily focused on agricultural uses, dam safety concerns, infrastructure maintenance, and the preservation of the wildlife habitat for endangered birds.
"The reservoir and associated ditch system provide incredible value to the community including ensuring the viability of agriculture on the east side, a source of water for fire protection, reduced potential for downstream flooding, bountiful recreational fishing resources, and endangered waterbird habitat," said Representative Luke A. Evslin (D-16, Wailua, Hanamā‘ulu, Kapaia, Līhu‘e, Puhi, portion of ‘Ōma‘o). "I'm hopeful that we can work together to ensure the preservation and maintenance of the system for future generations."
Hāʻena State Park
Nestled on the north shore of Kauaʻi, Hāʻena State Park serves as a model for other state parks and natural resources striving to strike a balance between sustainable park management, accommodating visitors, and addressing the needs of the local community. In previous years, the community grappled with challenges posed by an influx of vehicles and visitors creating safety hazards, disruption of fragile ecosystems, and the depletion of the fisheries. At its peak, it was the third-most visited state park, welcoming 2,000 to 3,000 visitors daily.
Diligent efforts by state and county representatives, in collaboration with community members, led to the development of a destination management model and the adoption of a renewed approach focused on regenerative tourism. The Ha‘ena State Park Master Plan, approved in May 2018, introduced a reservation requirement for out-of-state visitors, implemented a shuttle system, and enforced a policy allowing only Hawai‘i residents to park in the main lot without a reservation.
"Implementation of the Hāʻena State Park Master Plan was the result of years of collaborative efforts and strong community leadership. We anticipate that it will stand as a blueprint to communities who seek to implement a similar model to its heavily-trafficked natural resources," said House Majority Leader Nadine K. Nakamura (D-15, Hā‘ena, Wainiha, Hanalei, Princeville, Kīlauea, Anahola, Keālia, Kapa‘a, portion of Wailua, Kawaihau).
Kekaha Elementary School
Located on the westside of Kauaʻi, Kekaha Elementary School holds a student body of just over 300 keiki, ranging from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. The House Finance Committee visited the school to meet with the principal and learn about pressing needs. During their visit, House Representatives were able to observe significant improvements implemented after a $2 million appropriation in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. This funding supported essential repairs and maintenance of the school's buildings, including improvements to the cafeteria, basketball court, and various other facilities.
In the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the Legislature has further allocated $4.4 million for the planning, design, and construction of a covered play court. This initiative aims to provide a shaded area where the keiki can engage in outdoor activities while being shielded from the sun's rays.
Waimea High School
Waimea High School is a public high school in West Kauaʻi and hosts students in grades 9 through 12. The House Finance Committee visited the campus to meet with educators and learn about the school's ongoing projects.
One of the biggest needs expressed by the faculty is the necessity for a modern gymnasium that can better accommodate student-athletes and provide adequate practice space and equipment. Currently, students are practicing in a facility that dates back to the 1940's, and frequently face the challenge of rearranging the space to accommodate other sports teams in need of practice facilities. It was noted that the popularity of girls' wrestling among the students has been on the rise in recent years.
In the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget, $22 million was appropriated by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature for the design and construction of a new gymnasium. This new facility is envisioned as a central hub for hosting athletic events and various student activities. During the visit, House Representatives had the opportunity to review architectural renderings and engage in discussions regarding additional funding required to transform this project into a reality.
Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital
As the oldest operating hospital on Kauaʻi, Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital (SMMH) provides critical care to the neighboring community, with 24-hour emergency services, in-patient psychiatric care, radiology, occupational therapy, and other inpatient and outpatient services. House Representatives had an opportunity to learn more about the hospital's master plan, which strives to expand hospital services and create a campus that is the model for a multi-generational, multi-use Healthcare Wellness village.
"The SMMH master plan aims to expand long-term care, emergency, and acute psychiatric services at SMMH, relocate the Kapa‘a Library, provide transitional and workforce housing, and add a police substation as well as much needed behavioral health housing," said Lance Segawa, Chief Executive Officer of Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation, Kaua‘i Region.
After extensive community engagement, a final master plan was revealed in April 2023. Additionally, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature has supported the hospital through appropriations made in the FY24 and FY25 budget including $4,000,000 for clinic and emergency department expansion, $1,300,000 for infrastructure, planning, and design to implement the SMMH master plan, and $14,900,000 for plans, design, and construction of a psychiatric unit.
Kauaʻi Veterans Memorial Hospital
Kauaʻi Veterans Memorial Hospital is a full-service critical access hospital in beautiful Waimea and provides a full range of healthcare services including 24-hour emergency care, general surgery, intensive care, family and internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatric services.
The House Finance Committee had an opportunity to tour the hospital's facilities and hear the status of ongoing projects. In the past legislative session, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature appropriated $3,000,000 for design, construction, and equipment modernization for the operating room at Kauaʻi Veterans Memorial Hospital.
"This hospital is a cornerstone in our community, it has been the birthplace for countless residents! We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the dedicated healthcare professionals who tirelessly serve our West Kauaʻi community," said House Majority Floor Leader Dee Morikawa (D-17, Ni‘ihau, portion of ‘Ōma‘o, Kōloa, Po‘ipū, Lāwa‘i, Kalāheo, Ele‘ele, Hanapēpē, Kaawanui Village, Pākalā Village, Waimea, Kekaha).