The County of Maui has begun the process to acquire a portion of Wailuku Water Company. On Dec. 14, Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration transmitted a budget amendment to Maui County Council members, seeking their approval for funding to appraise property and infrastructure owned by the Wailuku Water Company, LLC.
Should funds for the appraisal be approved, it would allow the county to begin efforts to purchase a portion of Wailuku Water Company, in this case approximately 8,764 acres of land in the West Maui watershed area along with its water conveyance system; the proposed acquisition price is $9.5 million.
Arakawa stated during a press conference that while there is still a long way to go towards making the purchase a reality, the budget amendment is an important first step in returning a valuable public resource to public hands.
“We’re doing this for several reasons,” Arakawa said. “The first is to return surface water back into the streams and rivers, the second is to return a public resource into public hands and finally, we want to improve the efficiency and reliability of the county’s public water system.”
During the press conference, Arakawa handed over the budget amendment to Councilmember Mike Victorino, who represents the Wailuku district. “The community has been divided for a long time,” said Victorino. “But this proposal is something we can hopefully all finally agree upon.”
Councilmember-elect Alika Atay, who takes over for Victorino next year, said he was “ecstatic” to hear the news. “I’m very hopeful,” Atay said. “We are truly serving the public by doing this by returning this public resource to the community. I look forward to reviewing the details with the rest of the council.”
Purchase of the property and its assets are subject to approval by Maui County Council members, who have full authority to reject or request modifications to the acquisition agreement. Should council decide to approve funding for an appraisal, upon completion of the appraisal the county intends to transmit another budget amendment for the funds to purchase and a resolution to authorize the acquisition.
According to county officials, the day after the press conference marked 11 years from the day Arakawa first pledged to restore water to Maui streams, as part of an Earthjustice settlement with Maui County during his first term as mayor in 2005. Former Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat, who negotiated the settlement back then, said the mayor made good on his promise.
“We have come a long way, and we still have a long way to go,” said Sproat, now an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii specializing in Native Hawaiian and Environmental law. “The mayor importantly noted that this is just one step in forging a real future for Maui after the plantation era. Similar steps need to be taken and will be in East Maui as well.”
Photo courtesy of Mayor’s Office