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Albizia Removal and Control Projects Planned

February 14, 2018, 6:25 PM HST (Updated February 15, 2018, 8:21 AM) · 0 Comments
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Albizia Tree on Halai Street. Courtesy photo.

The Hawai‘i Island Albizia Task Force has announced that over $1 million has been allotted for albizia removal and control projects in 2018.

The projects are the next steps in removing albizia from high-priority areas in East Hawai‘i as identified in the Albizia Mitigation Plan presented to the Legislature at the end of 2015.

Work is nearly complete on the Puainako Extension, where 17-year-old trees had exceeded heights of 100 feet and branches had begun falling across the road, causing traffic delays and potential serious hazards.

“Our primary concern is safety,” said Bill Buckley, albizia project coordinator for BIISC. “These are some of the most heavily used streets in East Hawai‘i, and falling trees and branches severely impact access and can potentially cause serious injury.”

“The whole community is excited to see Puainako cleared,” said Springer Kaye, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee (BIISC).

Kaye heads the task force, which includes the University of Hawai‘i, the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation, Hawai‘i Electric Light Company, County Highways Division and the US Forest Service, among others.

“Of the 18 projects in our hazard mitigation plan, this was the most difficult to negotiate because of the issues of ownership,” said Kaye.

Puainako Extension is still owned by the county, but is slated to be turned over to HDOT once the Saddle Road realignment is completed.

“It would have been easy for everyone to look at this and say ‘Not my Kuleana!’ I really commend our state and county highways people for staying in this, building trust over the years, and the Legislature for committing the resources to get the job done,” said Kaye.

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In the coming weeks, work crews will tackle albizia trees overhanging the Hilo Landfill Access Road (Ho‘olaulima Road) and the Airport Access Road (Kekūuanaō‘a Street). They will be working to ensure these roads will remain clear in the event of a hurricane, as well as reduce the threat to workers at those facilities. In the heart of Hilo, a 200-foot-tall albizia on Hāla‘i Hill that threatens dozens of surrounding homes has been scheduled for removal.

The tree, on private property, overhangs Punahele Street and the Hilo jail, and has received numerous hazard complaints from surrounding neighbors. Attempts to contact the owners have been unsuccessful. The county is moving forward to remove the tree under the Unsafe Flora ordinance, which allows for a lien to be placed against to the property to recoup the cost of removal.

Hawai‘i County Department of Public Works spent over $600,000 on hazardous tree issues last year. In Puna, the anticipated release of a state grant-in­‐aid will launch work on the upper half of Maku‘u Street, connecting the Railroad Emergency Access Route to Highway 130.

In 2016 and 2017, crews from the task force worked alongside volunteers to successfully control regrowth of albizia near Lava Tree State Monument, protecting a critical access route through lower Puna. “It’s immensely gratifying to see this work continuing, and even picking up steam,” said Flint Hughes, Ph.D., one of the early advocates for proactive albizia control on the island. Hughes
monitors the environmental impacts of albizia control work. “The impact is resoundingly positive. In our study plots we’ve seen that it takes just months for other plants to overtake the area and suppress albizia regeneration. The dead stands fade away in three to five years. Controlling the albizia stops a huge amount of nitrogen created by the trees from running off into our streams where it would pollute the water.”

The Hawai‘i Island Albizia Mitigation Plan calls for albizia-free buffer zones up to 100 meters from the centerline of 18 primary roads and major electrical transmission lines in Puna and Hilo. The four powerline projects were completed in 2016, and three of the five state highway projects are nearly finished.

Hawai‘i County has the largest share of the assigned work, with 49 miles to complete along nine routes. In 2014, fallen albizia accounted for the majority of the hundreds of trees brought down during Tropical Storm Iselle. Many areas of Puna were cut off by large trees fallen across the road, and residents were left without power for days as utility crews struggled to repair fallen power lines.

The Puainako Extension and other state highways projects have been primarily funded by a special appropriation from the state legislature. A lengthy list of funders and supporters includes the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council, US Forest Service, individual Hawai‘i County Councilmembers and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.

BIISC, in coordination with the Hawaiian Paradise Park community, offers free albizia education sessions for community members every third Saturday of the month at 9 a.m. at the HPP Activity Center.

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