Maui’s Top 10 Ongoing Environmental Challenges


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


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.
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. MTW