Public consultation invited on new USGS facility in Hilo

(BIVN) – Officials are seeking public comment on a new facility, which will be located on a 13-acre site near the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus, for two US Geological Survey programs.

On Friday, the US Department of the Interior announced that it was preparing an environmental assessment (EA) for a new facility to support the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO) and the Pacific Island Ecosystem Research Center (PIERC). The facility will be located near the north corner of the intersection of Komohana Street and Nowelo Road.

Background

The mission of the USGS Hawaiʽi Volcano Observatory (HVO) is to monitor, investigate, and assess the hazards of active volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawaii, and to communicate the results of this work to the public, managers of emergencies and the scientific community. Due to its proximity to the active volcanoes of Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, Lōʽihi, and Hualālai, HVO attracts geoscientists from around the world to conduct cutting-edge research. HVO scientists also frequently interact with community groups to provide training in volcanology, hazards, and earth science.

The Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center (PIERC) conducts research to support and implement sound management and conservation of biological resources in Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific. His research focuses on species at risk, invasive species, plant diseases (eg the rapid death of the ‘Ōhi’a) and ecosystem processes. PIERC research results are invaluable to island communities seeking to live in harmony with changing climates, ecosystems and invasive threats. It is used to inform management decisions by the US Department of the Interior and other federal and state agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations.

Objective and need for action

In 2018, the eruption and partial collapse of the summit of Kīlauea Volcano damaged the existing USGS HVO facility, prompting the HVO to abandon its main building. Since the eruption, 30 existing employees have been using temporary facilities in Hilo for office, laboratory and warehouse functions, as well as working from home due to COVID-19. There are no plans to repair the existing facility due to safety and cost concerns, and a permanent base of operations that is not vulnerable to future blowouts is required.

Existing PIERC facilities in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park were unaffected by eruption-related damage. However, PIERC has long sought to be closer to resources and colleagues in Hilo. Cumulatively, these changes prompted the USGS to propose a consolidated HVO-PIERC Science Hub in Hilo. Both programs require a modern facility to support ongoing research, field operations, laboratory, and community education activities.

The proposed project (Figure 2) will provide replacement facilities for HVO and PIERC, supporting approximately 50 HVO staff and volunteers and 53 PIERC staff and volunteers. The facility will be approximately 60,000 square feet and will include office space, conference rooms, laboratories, warehouse and storage, and an operations/monitoring center.

HVO and PIERC work collaboratively with University of Hawaii faculty and students, and the location near the UH Hilo campus will strengthen academic and research partnerships and create learning opportunities for students. The project will benefit students and faculty by providing a USGS science facility on campus, increasing student interaction with scientists, and enabling shared use of
laboratory and other equipment.

The project site is part of a larger parcel of land that was granted to the University of Hawaii by Executive Order No. 3814, dated April 11, 2000, “for the University of Hawaii and its purposes related”.[.]“The proposed use is consistent with the object and intent of the Executive Order, and its use as an HVO/PIERC facility is supported by the University.

Pre-assessment consultation

This pre-assessment consultation, conducted pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 343 (Environmental Impact Statements), is intended to ensure that interested parties are informed of the upcoming environmental assessment project and have the opportunity to identify issues and concerns to be addressed. The draft environmental assessment will describe the existing physical, biological and socio-economic environment and the anticipated impacts of the proposed project. It will include the results of technical studies relating in particular to civil engineering, archaeology, cultural impacts, traffic, noise, flora and fauna.

Officials indicate that initial comments are expected by April 28, 2022. Written comments can be sent to the EA Consultant HHF Planners at [email protected]

About Mark A. Tomlin

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