Sierra Club launches ad blitz against Koa Ridge

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Sep 26 2013 08:56:00 AM HST

Castle and Cooke wants to transform 576 acres of farmland into a community of 3,500 homes, but the Sierra Club wants residents to ponder what that will do to traffic.

HONOLULU -

Calling it a potential traffic nightmare, the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club will begin airing radio ads Friday that seeks to sway public opinion against Koa Ridge, a proposed development by Castle and Cooke that would add 3,500 tract-style homes to Central Oahu.

Sierra Club Director Robert Harris would not reveal how much the environmental group is spending on the ad blitz, but the spots will play on multiple radio stations (KSSK, KHVH and KINE ) and target Oahu residents during peak travel times.

"We want people who are sitting in traffic to recognize this is just going to get worse unless we start doing something about it," said Sierra Club Director Robert Harris.

The 60 and 15-second ads feature a couple stuck in gridlock discussing the proposed Koa Ridge project, which seeks to rezone 576 acres of agricultural land between Ka Uka Boulevard and Kipapa Gulch.

"Think this is bad, just wait till that huge new Koa Ridge project the council's pushing goes ahead," says a woman's voice, after her husband laments the stop-and-go traffic.

Some Central Oahu residents and even those who live on the Leeward side fear Koa Ridge will substantially increase early morning gridlock where the H1 Freeway merges with the H2.

"I think that's an island-wide impact, or nearly an island-wide impact," said Karen Loomis, chairperson of the Mililani Neighborhood Board Transportation Committee. "So the ad blitz will inform people who may not be in the immediate area that, hey this is coming and it could affect you."

"It's going to devastate people's family time, and it's really going to take away from that quality of life," said Matt LoPresti, who lives in Leeward Oahu and is a member of the Sierra Club's Oahu Group Executive Committee.

Castle and Cooke has promised to spend $100 million on traffic mitigation measures as part of its plans for Koa Ridge, which includes improvements to the existing Waipio Interchange, construction of a new H2 freeway interchange at the existing Pineapple Road Overpass, as well as other improvements along City and County roadways and intersections.

However, those who remain opposed to the project don't believe the mitigation measures go far enough, and gridlock will still occur once cars stack on the H2.

"All that's going to do is allow you to get on a highway faster, and the highway is going to become a parking lot," said LoPresti.   

Bill 48, which seeks to rezone Koa Ridge land, faces second reading and a public hearing Oct. 9 during the next meeting of the Honolulu City Council. Although the Council's track record over the past several years has been decidedly pro-development, Koa Ridge opponents may have found an ally in Councilman Ron Menor, at least when it comes to traffic improvements.

"I'd like to see major improvements completed on our roadways before a substantial portion of the development is allowed to proceed," Menor told KITV4. "As a longtime Central Oahu resident, the traffic on our state and city roadways is already intolerable and unacceptable."

Menor said he's working on inserting language into a unilateral agreement between the city and Castle and Cooke that would require traffic mitigation measures to be completed before the first residents of Koa Ridge are allowed to move in. The unilateral agreement is contained within the language of Bill 48.

"Before the development is approved, we need to look at traffic mitigation measures and until those measures are implemented we need to take a very cautious approach with respect to the way we value the proposed development," said the councilman.

The Sierra Club's ad blitz is connected to an online petition through a newly created website, SaveKoaRidge.org.  The petition urges City Council members to vote against the controversial project, which has been in the planning stages since the mid-1990s.

Castle and Cooke declined to discuss the ad campaign until the radio spots begin airing Friday.

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