For the last two years, Michele Anderson has represented South Maui
on the Maui County Council. She’s also chaired the council’s Water
Resource Committee, which conducts hearings and makes recommendations
on the island’s water usage and future sources. Lately she’s gone head
to head with Mayor Alan Arakawa over his desire to pump drinking water
from the Hamakuopoko Wells despite the fact that the well has long been
contaminated with pesticides and must be chemically treated. I sat down
with her recently to get her thoughts on her first term in office as
well as the difficulties posed by highway traffic, land development and
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: Let
me start off with traffic. I know a lot of people who are losing
patience with commute times around here. It seems that traffic between
Central Maui and Lahaina has passed a tipping point and is much worse
than I can remember. Is that true?
MICHELE ANDERSON: Oh yes.
For any land use approval, you’re required to have an impact analysis.
Every approval requires a traffic impact analysis.
We have to recognize that we’re on an island. It’s irresponsible for
agencies to allow traffic to exceed maximum carrying capacity.
Honoapi`ilani Highway has exceeded maximum carrying capacity. The
Department of Transportation recently admitted it, despite the fact
that they’ve allowed all this development to occur without adequate
mitigation. We can’t keep doing all this development without adding to
the road system. It’s a public safety issue—what about people who are
trying to get to the hospital?
Is there some kind of traffic mitigation coming soon?
I hope the state and county could move forward on developing the
cane haul road along Honoapi`ilani Highway from the Pali to Lahaina
Town. Since there’s no active ag there, it’s very simple for the county
or state to condemn that road and use it for immediate relief. They
could possibly institute a contraflow program similar to the one on
Haleakala Highway for the morning and afternoon commute. But then again
it’s not just commute times anymore—the traffic happens all the time.
What about all the land development that’s exacerbating the problem?
I think the situation has escalated to such an unsafe level that it
would be irresponsible to allow further development without a
resolution to the traffic problem first.
Okay. What’s the most important thing you’ve done in office in the last two years?
As chair of the Water Resource Committee I’d have to say the most
important thing we’ve done in the last term is ban the use of
Hamakuopoko Well water for human consumption. The future growth of Maui
depends on the development of water. We have to develop clean sources
for public use instead of developing wells under active agriculture.
Where do we put our priorities? Are we spending $7.5 million for use of
contaminated water? How many clean wells could we drill for $7.5
I’m pretty sure we’re the only county in the state that’s considered
the health of its citizens in developing new sources of water. Oahu has
many contaminated wells, but they don’t have any other choices. We do.
This sends a message to the big landowners: look for other sources than
Now Mayor Arakawa and the county
water department have been saying that Hamakuopoko Well water is
necessary because Upcountry is facing serious drought conditions. In
fact, on Sept. 28 he’s holding a press conference with a few water
experts to show that the water’s perfectly safe to drink.
I just came from the Board of Water Supply. There are drought
emergency guidelines that the board adopted for determining whether
it’s necessary to call a drought. There are six different triggers,
four of which must be met. Four of those consider water levels at
various points in the system. Based on the department’s own figures
currently on their website, levels at all these points far exceed the
Besides that, if there really was a serious drought, the governor
has the power to declare a disaster and suspend all laws, including any
ordinance we pass prohibiting any use for human consumption. This was
invoked twice by Governor Ben Cayetano in 1998, 1999.
Records show Hamakuopoko Well water has been rarely used in the last
six years. It’s very disingenuous of the administration to use these
scare tactics to get Upcountry farmers up in arms.
Let me switch topics for a moment—what do you like least about your job?
There just physically isn’t enough time to address all the problems.
Many should be addressed by the administration, but aren’t. So we take
them up because residents are frustrated. The community brought the
Hamakuopoko Wells issue to us—they couldn’t even get the courtesy of an
There are a lot of things the council could do proactively, but a
lot of our time is covered dealing with problems the administration is
ignoring. We only meet six hours a month—that’s a pitiful amount of
time to do the people’s business.
A few months ago, Kuau resident
Robert Karpovich wrote you and the council’s Budget Committee about
some serious discrepancies with the way the county assess property
values [“Tax Breaks,” Aug. 24, 2006]. Is the council going to address
that in any way?
I hope in the next term the Budget & Finance Committee will
bring forward all the inequities in the property tax system. We need to
close the loopholes, make sure fair assessments are done and make sure
the unfair assessments currently being done are corrected.
Is that your biggest priority in the next term?
We need to have viable water use and development ready for adoption
by the council. Without that, there is no plan. We have to look at it
in its totality. State law, the county charter and the county code all
require that any use has to be adopted into a water use and development
plan. That hasn’t been done for over 15 years.
We need to take the issue of water development out from behind
closed doors and put it in the public arena where it belongs. Water is
the most important resource we have and the public deserves a hand in
the decision-making process.
Where do you want to see water development take place?
There are opportunities Upcountry above the ag line to develop clean
wells. Development of wells in East Maui is still controversial because
we don’t know how it will affect stream flow. Restoring stream flow is
a priority for the council.
The Water Resource Committee was also recently presented with an
exciting possibility: Dr. Richard Thomas, a professor at the University
of Hawai`i, did a study on the Big Island on volcanic substrate. He
drilled a deep well there, beyond the basal lens, through areas of high
chlorides which indicate the presence of salt water and discovered deep
artesian water in a dynamic system. It delivers a billion gallons of
pure water a day that’s self-delivered without a pump system.
This is a groundbreaking scientific discovery in the Hawaiian
Islands. He never expected to find water that deep. The council
allocated $250,000 in this year’s budget to initiate exploration to see
if this kind of water exists on Maui.
When will that study take place?
That’s the problem. The administration hasn’t picked up the ball and
run with it. The money’s been sitting there since July 1. When we spend
all our time fighting, very little can be accomplished.
This is the purpose of the water use and development plan. It plans
for providing water to various regions. If we had that document we’d
have a plan. And we could fund the studies to make sure our water needs
would be met.
Seibu just announced that they’re selling Makena Resort. What’s the latest that’s happening there?
The council Land Use Committee recommended approval of the zoning
with 40 conditions. The developer [Makena Resort] then had to submit a
unilateral agreement. But Makena Resort has refused to do this. Their
approval has never been finalized or adopted by the council itself.
Currently there are zoning entitlements on the land that would allow
Makena Resort to go ahead with some development regardless of whether
the county rezones it. But the real question on that is where is the
water going to come from?
It seems we get back to water on just about every subject.
So where do we get the water?
For South Maui, realistically we have to go towards Kahakaloa and
drill more wells. There’s also the possibility of using more surface
water, but that would require an adequate filtration plant and more
storage. We need more [water] storage in all the systems. If we had
more storage, we could serve more people with the water we already
Okay, let’s finish with something
that surprised me. Two years ago you first ran for office in a field
crowded with challenges—one of whom, longtime radio personality Ron
Vaught, had considerable developer backing. But this time you were
unopposed for reelection. What gives?
My opponent [in 2004] had every endorsement you could possibly get
except for the environmental community. He spent twice the money I
spent. He had way more name recognition than I did. Now it certainly
didn’t hurt that the tremendously popular Councilman Wayne Nishiki
endorsed me. I had eight years experience in Maui County government.
But I presented thoughtful and informed responses to questions posed
during all the candidate forums. See, I love public service. I think we
need to have people in office who see the job as one of public service
first and foremost. MTW