A community group has filed a complaint with the Hawaii Office of Environmental Quality Control seeking to suspend an environmental review process for building a replacement facility for the crumbling Oahu Community Correctional Center.

The office published a preparation notice Friday for a draft environmental impact statement for a new OCCC, setting off a 30-day period in which the Hawaii Department of Accounting and General Services seeks public comments.

According to the preparation notice, DAGS is considering two potential sites: the OCCC’s current 16-acre site in Kalihi or the largely industrial, state-owned land in Halawa Valley, where the state’s largest prison is located.

Oahu Community Correctional Center. 18 dec 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Originally built in 1916, the Oahu Community Correctional Center sits near land in Kalihi that the city is eyeing for rail development. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A team of consultants working with DAGS and the Hawaii Department of Public Safety will also be looking to identify other alternative sites as the review process continues.

But Life of the Land, a Honolulu-based nonprofit, is asking the Office of Environmental Quality Control to withdraw the preparation notice based on what it says are two errors.

First, under the Hawaii Revised Statute’s Chapter 343, a commenting period for an environmental review process normally lasts 30 days, but the rules are different when it comes to the “development or expansion” of any correctional facilities: The Legislature passed a bill in 2003 amending a state statute to require a 60-day commenting period.

Second, Life of the Land takes issue with the fact that DAGS failed to identify any alternative sites. Instead, DAGS noted only that its consultants are still trying to identify the sites by giving “an equal and unbiased opportunity to all areas of Oahu” to be considered.

According to the preparation notice, the location of any alternative sites won’t be made public until a draft environmental impact statement is completed.

Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, said the process essentially allows DAGS to skip its obligations under the statute to “notify the public of each proposed site and accept public comments for at least 60 days following notification.”

“The failure to disclose which sites are being considered undermines the purpose of the EIS law, which is to disclose intensions so as to invite community input,” Curtis said.

Halawa prison inmates walk between modules on tour. 17 dec 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Under an environmental review process underway, the Hawaii Department of Accounting and General Services is proposing to rebuild the Oahu Community Correctional Center on its current site in Kalihi or move it to the largely industrial land where the Halawa Correctional Facility (picture here) is located. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Curtis added that the public is supposed to be able to propose alternatives to what DAGS is proposing — something that he said can’t happen under the process.

“The purpose of the preparation notice is that we can see what they are proposing and offer alternatives,” Curtis said. “Well, if we don’t know what they are proposing, it’s hard to explain what the alternatives might be.”

Toni Schwartz, public safety spokeswoman, referred all questions about the preparation notice to DAGS.

Cathy Chin, DAGS spokeswoman, said the department is moving forward with the review process “in the interest of expediting the project.”

“We do have open invitations for anyone to offer their property up for consideration,” Chin said in a statement. “If any additional viable/feasible sites are identified, we would then issue a new draft-EIS (preparation) notice and restart the process to allow for full public review.”

As for the length of the commenting period, Chin said the statute’s 60-day requirement kicks in only “if and when the governor negotiates directly with any person for the development or expansion of correctional facilities.”

Scott Glenn, executive director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control, said Monday he was reviewing Curtis’ complaint and was not available for comment.

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