OPINION: Big Dollars and Dubious Info at Runway Meeting
By Susan Halas
It was standing room-only last night for an informational meeting on proposed improvements to the Kahului Airport runways. An estimated crowd of 400 Mauians jammed the Pomaikai Elementary School cafeteria in Kahului to hear Hawaii Department of Transportation spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl present three options for runway upgrades.
Options 1 and 2 had estimated costs ranging from $34 to $84 million. They both involved closing the airport to wide-bodied aircraft traffic from three to ten weeks while improvements were made.
There was no aircraft landing restriction on Option 3 which had a price tag estimated at $110 to $134 million.
It was not surprising that the room was packed with residents, state officials, and local politicos – the airport has always stirred local passions.
But it was interesting to note that this crowd seemed well-rehearsed and their mood was more like a game rally or campaign event. When the floor was opened to questions and comments participants including employees, union officials, hospitality organizations and business groups waved signs and delivered prepared speeches.
As for information, they didn’t seem to need much, by a show of hands those present were overwhelmingly in favor of Option 3.
Maybe it was a good thing that they already had their minds made up, because for an “informational” meeting there was surprisingly little real information actually available.
The program consisted entirely of a power point presentation and remarks by Meisenzahl and his DOT bosses.
There was nothing in writing. There was no agenda. There was no hand-out with a summary of costs. There was not so much as a post-it note left behind to indicate what was coming next, or where the actual data to back up these big ticket options might be obtained.
Spokesperson Meisenzahl did say his slides would go up on the DOT website today. He also indicated the meeting was the first of many to “discuss” the project.
Tossed casually into the mix of big numbers and scanty details was an additional proposal for relocating and upgrading the airport’s car rental facility. This construction was slated to occur prior to runway improvements in scenarios 2 and 3. The consolidated car rental facility (CONRAC) had a price tag estimated at an additional $220-$250 million by DOT Deputy Director Ford Fuchigami.
It was also indicative of things to come that Meisenzahl, who pegged the project costs in $30-$60 million range as recently as mid-December was now, just a month later, presenting ball-park figures that looked closer to $300 million.
How those numbers had floated upward so dramatically in such a short time was not explained.
Discussion of how it would all be paid for was equally thin, other than to say that in the past the FAA has paid 75% of the costs (pending availability of funds) and the state transportation funds have contributed the remaining 25%.