Rob Parsons

Speed Updating

The very latest on some of Maui's key issues

by Rob Parsons

July 19, 2007

Interested in what's going on around you on Maui, but don't have time to attend meetings? Maybe you've been reading the papers, but wonder if there's more to some of the bigger issues than you're getting?

Here's a quick tour of a few of Maui's most important environmental and planning issues. So sit back and enjoy the view, but feel free to ask questions along the way:

Wailea 670

On Tuesday, July 25, at 1:30 p.m., the County Council Land Use Committee will discuss the future of South Maui. That's when the committee takes up Wailea 670's rezoning application. Two meetings held earlier this year, before the council began their long budget deliberations, were attended by only a few testifiers who spoke out with concerns of the current development plans for a private golf course and 1400 housing units.

Since then, groups including Maui Tomorrow Foundation and SaveMakena.org have actively sought to inform the South Maui community about the potential impacts of Wailea 670. More than 200 people attended the South Maui Forum in May, listening to six panelists address poignant questions regarding the area's water, traffic, smart growth, affordable housing and distinctive cultural and botanical sites.

Recent traffic fatalities have underscored the overcrowding of our roads, and early summer drought conditions have helped magnify the need for prudent water planning. Earlier this month, council member Michelle Anderson re-introduced a bill modeled after California legislation dubbed the "Show Me The Water" law. It requires developers to demonstrate a guaranteed source of water for the next 20 years before getting any approvals.

Wailea 670 developer Charlie Jencks insists they have plenty of water for their project, both for drinking and irrigation. But even if that were true, should our dwindling water resources be allocated for more luxury homes-half the project would be market priced-and yet another golf course in South Maui?

The 2007 County Council has not yet had a litmus test issue to reveal how new council members may vote on key development proposals. It remains to be seen if the community will show up en masse as the Save Honolua Coalition supporters did at a March council hearing.

One question worth asking: "Is an Environmental Impact Statement written back in 1988 sufficient for the revamped Wailea 670 project in 2007?"

Hawai`i Superferry

If you've been paying close attention to the saga of Hawai'i Superferry's (HSF) quest to connect the islands with their $200 million venture, you may have noticed that they didn't meet their July 1 target to begin inter-island service. Docked at Pier 19 in Honolulu Harbor, there is a shroud of mystery around when the 350-foot Alakai will begin voyages between Oahu and Maui, and Oahu and Kauai.

The HSF website is taking reservations for voyages beginning Sept. 5, but notes that the inaugural voyage will not be on that date. Are HSF officials waiting until two legal challenges are heard in court next month? Do they believe they can avoid running aground on these legal speed bumps?

Actually, it's the Hawai'i Department of Transportation that will be in court, facing arguments that they avoided environmental laws and underestimated impacts for $40 million in harbor improvements statewide needed to accommodate the Superferry. To local environmental groups leading the challenges, this may be the last stand to delay the arrival of Hawai'i Superferry, and to uphold the integrity of Hawai'i State Statutes for environmental review.

On the Big Island, residents are demanding full environmental studies before building an entire new facility, Pier 4 at Kawaihae Harbor, where HSF hopes to visit beginning in 2009.

Word from Kauai is that noted California environmental law attorney Stephan Volker has been hired to pursue a lawsuit challenging Hawai'i Superferry on the basis of federal endangered species and marine mammal protection laws. The short version of the video, Will the Superferry Kill Humpback Whales? has already registered nearly 3,400 viewings on YouTube.

The Superferry is also on a collision course with higher prices; on July 4 the company announced that they'll add a fuel surcharge of nearly 31 percent to travel costs. But HSF is convinced that travelers will be willing to pay more, such as the $20 upgrade for the Hahalua Lounge, with seating that's "a full five inches wider than passenger seating elsewhere."

I wonder if they have considered the marketing slogan, "Get you okole over to a Neighbor Island?"


The Maui News account of a recent public meeting by Hawai'i Electric Company (HECO) to discuss plans for importing palm oil to fire their power plants, labeled those questioning the plan as "skeptics," a word the reporter used five times. As one who attended the meeting, I'd say that HECO and its ally, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), did little to appease a myriad of questions and concerns asked by the standing-room-only crowd at Maui Community College.

The basic unanswered question was how importing palm oil harvested thousands of miles away in countries where rainforests are slashed and burned, orangutans are slaughtered for bounty (for eating oil palm fruit) and indigenous rights are trampled, can be considered "sustainable."

It also appears that BlueEarth Maui Biofuels LLC, partnering with Maui Electric to open a huge biodiesel refinery on Maui by 2009, is poised to avoid preparing an environmental impact statement. I guess somebody has to keep those "skeptical" environmentalists busy with legal challenges.

HECO and NRDC claim their effort to "certify sustainably produced palm oil" will help the industry move towards better practices, though others believe it will simply increase price and demand in the industry, creating a larger marketplace for ecologically destructive practices. A coalition of five Hawai'i environmental and indigenous groups registered official comments to the HECO/NRDC plan, and are finding global support.

More than 40 groups from 14 countries have signed on to the Draft Analysis of Proposed Sustainability Criteria for HECO's Procurement of Biodiesel from Palm Oil, submitted by Life of the Land, KAHEA, 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, Sierra Club-Maui and Environmental Defense Hawai'i. Perhaps those who would portray bona fide concerns as mere "skepticism" would be wise to view the mountain of compelling information on Life of the Land's Biofuel Blog page, www.lifeofthelandhawaii.org.

Invasive Species

The coqui frog, that tiny, noisy poster-child for invasive species efforts in Hawai'i, hasn't been in the news much lately. In this case, no news is good news.

Thanks to aggressive efforts by Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC), the coqui frog, native to Puerto Rico and capable of mating calls louder than 70 decibels, is "up against the ropes," according to Adam Radford of MISC. Once reported at dozens of locations, only nine sites remain on Maui. With the exception of one large site, Maliko Gulch in the Kaluanui area, all other sites probably have no more than a few frogs remaining.

A commercial nursery in a residential area of Kihei was formerly Ground Zero for frog populations in South Maui. They were brought into cooperation to spray for frogs only after a visit by previous Mayor Alan Arakawa and his wife Ann. Nocturnal visitors to this locale may now note the dramatic change from the cacophonous din which existed only last year, to the new sounds of silence.

Governor Linda Lingle recently vetoed Senate Bill 1066 to authorize funding for agricultural inspections to support invasive species efforts. With news that the small, stinging nettle caterpillar has reached Maui from the Big Island, it's fortunate that the legislature voted to override her veto.

Invasive species successes have come from diligent efforts by many dedicated individuals, working to protect what's unique and special about Maui. Similar diligence may be required to safeguard our island and our quality of life from big-money development proposals such as Wailea 670, Hawai'i Superferry and BlueEarth Biofuels.