- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) - Mauka from the Kekaha Kai State Park entrance on Queen Kaahumanu Highway is land the Hawaii Racing Association believes is best suited for a motorsport park.

Since 1994, this nonprofit, which claims 3,400 members, has worked toward making this proposed facility a reality in West Hawaii, including downsizing the planned layout from 600 acres to 250 acres today. Its backers say it will be a safe, legal and family-friendly place to partake in motorsport activities and driver training, and the grounds also could be used for concerts, carnivals, fairs and swap meets.

The Kona Motorsport Park is a means to help boost the island’s economy, said Paul Maddox, Hawaii Racing Association president.

Its critics have cited concerns about noise, lighting and potential negative effects on property values. Their criticism, time and time again, proves one person’s dream is another’s nightmare.

In January, Hawaii Racing Association sent its members a questionnaire, which was used to determine the park’s desired features. An improving economy and continuing development growth in West Hawaii, as well as support expressed by Mayor Billy Kenoi and his administration, prompted the association to push for the project again, Maddox said. More parks and recreation facilities and opportunities are needed on the leeward side, he added.

This isn’t the first time county officials have backed the project. Former mayor Harry Kim and former Kona councilman Curtis Tyler III were also proponents, Maddox said. An archive search found Tyler co-sponsored a resolution, passed by the council, supporting the construction of a race park in West Hawaii as long as it was in an area that didn’t impact existing or future development. The association’s chronology notes Kim pledged in 2005 county support to see the project through and the County Council adopted in 1999 a resolution supporting facilities for motorsports on the island.

The current plan is to build the Kona Motorsport Park in three phases and turn it over to the county to be maintained as a public park, much like the Hilo dragstrip complex, Maddox said. Phase one includes club-built courses and trails for motorcycles and ATVs, motocross tracks for adults and keiki, off-road climbing and areas for radio controlled cars, mountain biking and bicycle motocross. Phase two includes a 20-acre multiuse area for concerts, car shows, fairs and other events, as well as courses for drifting, autocross and a driving school. Phase three has a quarter-mile dragstrip for racing, a professional go-kart track, and a 2-mile winding road course. This dream facility is estimated to cost at least $36 million, Maddox said.

Earlier this year, Hawaii Racing Association sent approximately 1,600 letters about the project to residents, businesses and organizations within 3 miles of the proposed site, which is state land. The association received 25 letters in support of the project and 11 letters against it, Maddox said.

Wednesday, Maddox said the proposed motorsport venue will be nothing like raceway parks on the mainland or the ones people are familiar with on television. He also acknowledged that sound is “the main concern and big gorilla in the room,” which is why the association is paying for a nearly $20,000 sound survey to be done now.

After receiving a $10,000 deposit for a sound survey, Oahu’s D.L. Adams Associates engineers took sound samples at the Hilo drag races and motocross, as well as ambient sound levels at the proposed motorsport park location and surrounding areas. With computer modeling, they will simulate the sound of the Hilo races over the proposed 250-acre motorsport park lava terrain and up to 3 miles away. Besides revealing how the sound travels at that location, they will also share ways on how sound can be mitigated, if necessary, Maddox said. Having worked on numerous federal, state and county projects in Hawaii, these engineers are very familiar with lava and its ability to absorb sound, he added.

Sound survey results will be made public on the association’s website and will indicate whether or not the facility is practical, Maddox said. “If it fails, and there’s nothing that can be done to appease those upcountry with concerns, then we’ll abandoned the project in that location,” he added.

The area mauka of Kekaha Kai State Beach Park has been deemed the ideal site for the Kona Motorsport Park since 1998, when the mayor’s office, via the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, suggested it as a possibility.

The sound survey will be completed once D.L. Adams Associates receives the remaining funds. Over the past couple of months, donors have contributed, making a dent in the outstanding balance, and about $3,000 still is needed, Maddox said. Donations are tax deductible.

This sound survey is among the several analyses needed for an environmental impact statement, which must be done to secure the state land for the motorsport park, Maddox said. In 2008, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources allowed the Hawaii Racing Association right-of-entry to the property to assemble an EIS, which Maddox estimates will likely cost $500,000. Once completed, the EIS would be used by the Land Use Commission to determine if the land should be reclassified from conservation to urban. The county would also use the EIS when considering a Hawaii County General Plan amendment and zone change.

The location and specific dates for the project are still unknown, Maddox said. Along with completing the EIS and the land reclassification, access from Queen Kaahumanu Highway would need to be obtained and a road built before any construction could begin at the proposed site - all of which is a couple of years or so away, he added.

For more information about the project or to donate, visit hawaiiracingassoc.org.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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