Rob Parsons

Maui's Top 10 Ongoing Environmental Challenges

By Rob Parsons
Published in Maui Time Weekly
March 29, 2007


Biotech mega-corporation Monsanto just announced signing a 99-year lease on Molokai to expand existing seed corn test plots. The biotech/seed corn industry just climbed into second place in the state's list of top agricultural revenue generators, above sugar and just below pineapple.

Meanwhile, worldwide experts are reviewing honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder and pondering the possible causes-pesticides, herbicides and a proliferation of genetically modified crops are under scrutiny. As Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang has stated, probably 90 percent of GMOs aren't harmful. It's the other 10 percent we don't know about.


Recently, an ad hoc group of surfers, Native Hawaiians and West Maui residents formed the Save Honolua coalition to oppose a new golf course and more luxury homes proposed for the area by the Maui Land & Pineapple Co. The battle has been fought elsewhere, including Speckelsville, Hana and at Wailea 670. You'd think 17 golf courses on one island would be enough. Ditto for the gazillion dollar homes.


It's a problem when the Pentagon thinks it doesn't need to abide by the same laws that apply to everyone else. Such is the case with its claim that U.S. Navy Sonar testing doesn't require any legal environmental review. The National Resource Defense Council has taken legal action on the Navy's Low Frequency Active Sonar testing. So did the California Coastal Commission. Dr. Marsha Green, who has extensively studied the effects of marine noise pollution on whales and other animals, recently rallied support on Maui to challenge the Navy.

Meanwhile, the top of Haleakala is now an alternate site for building the Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System) telescope. Because of its ability to track not only asteroids, but also satellites, Jim Albertini of the Big Island believes that Pan-STARRS is part of a first-strike nuclear weapons system. Do we want a facility of that sort on Haleakala or Mauna Kea, which would make us a target?


Imagine how healthy our reefs and near shore waters might be without the continual siltation from agricultural lands. Yet, periodic tropical storms deposit tons of material from our ranch lands and sugar cane and pineapple fields into the ocean. Last year, flooding from Kailua Gulch forced the closure of Baldwin Beach Park three times. One of those occasions happened under sunny skies, as a Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar reservoir failed, sending a muddy plume into the sea. And last March, a torrent flowed through a recently tilled cane field and into the ocean, eroding dozens of Hawaiian burials at an undisclosed site.


Can we PLEASE stop calling it Montana Beach? The traditional name for this coastal area is Kapuka`ulua. The Paia Lime Kiln site encompassed sand mining and processing for much of the past century. Now this beachfront parcel has been cooking up controversy because of go-aheads given back in 1999 to develop three luxury beachfront homes. Two of three former property owners settled their legal disputes, and the County of Maui owns their lots, including a 2,250-square-foot, two-story structure, which sits vacant. But what gives Asghar Sadri and his lawyer the idea they can strong-arm the county into allowing him to build on a lot he doesn't even own? Sadri invested $125,000 towards an agreement of sale that is now defunct, since building permits were not forthcoming.


A year ago, following two years of research, Mayor Alan Arakawa transmitted the Maui Inland Sand Quantification Study to the County Council. Given the prediction that current rates of excavation and shipping to Oahu would exhaust the available resource in five years, he recommended a moratorium on sand exportation.

A Council committee studied the issue and did nothing. In 2005, the sand barge sailed for Oahu 96 times. Last year, the numbers were similar, but a much bigger barge was utilized, beginning last July. As Maui's beaches erode, sand replenishment is a favorable option. Inland sand may be cheaper and cleaner than offshore benthic sand. On April 24, Hawaiian Cement will petition the Maui Planning Commission for a Special Use Permit to continue sand excavation on an Alexander & Baldwin parcel near Waikapu. To date, they have disturbed more than 60 Hawaiian burials on that site.


Nothing puts the "impact" in Environmental Impact Statement quite like the thought of a 350-foot long twin-hulled catamaran, traveling at 35 to 40 knots, colliding with an 80,000-pound humpback whale. Of course, Hawaii Superferry, Inc. still has their free hall pass from being required to study potential impacts on whales, invasive species, traffic or anything else. We can thank Governor Linda Lingle, her Department of Transportation Director and our own Representative Joe Souki (D, 8th District) for that.

Pending any legal decisions in the meantime, Superferry hopes to begin service on July 1. But wait-will the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers require permits for improvements in four harbors, in essence taking the hard environmental look at impacts that the state was unwilling to do?


Just when we got familiar with coqui frogs, miconia, and the erythrina (wiliwili) gall wasp, along comes puccinia psidii! Oh, you haven't seen the hundreds of decimated rose apple trees along roadsides through Haiku and out the Hana Highway? What might first be mistaken for mango blossoms is the withered new growth affected by what is known as ohia rust. First observed on Oahu in 2005, this rust fungus may also infect eucalyptus, paperbark tree, guava, allspice, jaboticaba, Surinam cherry and native ohia trees.

Cause for concern? You bet! The Maui Invasive Species Committee already has its hands full, and the rapid spread of the wiliwili gall wasp shocked us by showing how fast a pest can annihilate strong, healthy trees throughout the islands.


In many California communities yard trimmings and branches, as well as other recyclables, are picked up at curbside. If this service were available on Maui, huge amounts of compostable green waste could be diverted from our landfill. But local compost operations need help. EKO Compost has garnered national awards for their operation, which utilizes green waste and sewage sludge. But they are bursting at the seams of their limited permit area and have been forced to give away mulch to make room.

In Kihei, Maui Earth Compost finally passed Department of Health hurdles last summer and reopened their facility. A County recycling grant award of $75,000 was intended to allow them to accept residential green waste for free, just like EKO. Though approved by Public Works and the Mayor, the grant got stuck on the desk of the Budget Director, who was hung up on the wording, even after two revisions. Auwe!

And the number one environmental challenge facing Maui is?


Year in and year out, HC&S continues to harvest the majority of their 37,000 acres by burning, citing astronomical costs to retrofit their equipment and operations in order to "green harvest" the cane. For years, a debate has smoldered over the archaic practice of igniting enormous bonfires as a precursor to hauling sugar cane to the mill. Last month, The Maui News published a letter from Frank Gomes of Makawao. Gomes wrote that we can no longer ignore how cane burning contributes to global warming. "It would be extremely irresponsible to continue the burning of the fields when there are other more responsible and productive ways of processing sugar," he wrote. He added that it's time to look at this with new eyes and open minds. Bravo!

Though it's hard to imagine how the sugar industry can survive without some sort of ultimate makeover, stopping the burn would be a wonderful place to start. Any changes HC&S makes towards ethanol production or diversification into food crops would not only be environmentally wise investments in our future, but also sorely needed good public relations for their often maligned plantation.