Anyone driving on Baldwin right above Paia can’t miss them: giant 36-inch diameter pipes lined along the roadside. The pipes are part of a county construction job dating back several months. Where they are going, and whether they will ultimately connect with the disputed Hamakuapoko Wells, isn’t something the workers want to talk about.
“We’re building it in that direction,” said one worker who asked for anonymity, “but we won’t connect it until the county agrees.”
Local activists aren’t waiting to find out what that means. On Dec. 22, an attorney representing The Coalition to Protect East Maui Water Resources, Hui Alanui o Makena and resident Mark Sheehan filed a motion against the County of Maui aimed at stopping the construction.
“We just want the county to stand by the agreement they made with us, with Maui Tomorrow, in 2003,” Sheehan said.
That earlier lawsuit against the county resulted in a settlement and new requirements for the county’s water development in East Maui. That lawsuit, brought by the same group of people as well the Sierra Club’s Hawai`i chapter, scrapped everything beyond Phase One of the East Maui Water Development Plan.
As a result, county workers had to put in Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filters at the well sites. These were to treat for DBCP, EDB, and TCP—pesticides used extensively on the nearby pineapple fields. While the treatment would lower the levels of the contaminants to “non detectable” (scientific measurements of this sort do not allow a measurement of “zero”) levels, many residents and County Council members questioned the reliability of the system.
“They can say that it’s safe, but who knows what they aren’t testing for?” said Ron Sturtz, the president of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation. In addition, the Department of Water Supply’s webpage on Hamakuapoko says GAC filters don’t do anything about elevated nitrate levels.
The settlement also meant that if the county wanted to work on anything besides the Hamakuapoko Wells and pipelines related to it, it would need to treat it as an entirely new project. That meant, among other things, filing a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as well as a Cost Benefit Analysis.
Fast-forward three years to Sept. 1, 2006. That’s when the Maui County Council passed the first reading of an ordinance ordering the Department Of Water Supply not to use Hamakuapoko well water for human consumption. Four days later—in a move that outraged many—Department of Water Supply director George Tengan ordered a second round of pipeline construction.
Originally, the 36” pipe gracing Baldwin just above Paia was intended to handle an 11 million gallon per day (mgd) load. After the 2003 settlement, new rules specified that the pipe would only transmit two mgd. At the Sept. 13 Water Resources hearing, local activist and Hamakuapoko Well opponent Robert Karpovich testified that the lowered amount of water would have made it impossible for the pipe to flush properly, resulting in a buildup of bacteria. To date, the construction of the pipes has cost about $5 million.
On Oct. 2, the Council unanimously passed the ordinance banning use of the wells for human consumption. Pipeline construction, which had been going on since May 8, was to stop.
But it didn’t.
“Well, the county started it,” Tengan said when asked about the continued construction, “and we need to finish it.” As for possible plans to bring Hamakuapoko back on line: “Well, I can’t speak for the next administration,” he said.
Tengan’s words at the Sept. 13 Water Resources committee meeting were stronger. “[A]t some point in time, the county is going to have to go back east, back east again, to develop water if the county desires to develop central Maui anymore,” he said, according to the minutes. “Since the state is already paying for the installation of the pipeline now, we are taking advantage of that.”
That’s at odds with the 2003 lawsuit and compromise. It specifically states that “the use of the 36” transmission line is not to be considered as a commitment to develop or transmit water resources more than can be produced by the two Hamakuapoko wells. Any other use of this Hamakuapoko to Paia transmission shall require a new EIS.” A new EIS has yet to materialize.
Hence the recent action. The motion states that “even though the county law forbids the use of water from Hamakuapoko wells one and two for human consumption, the county defendants are continuing with their project to install the 36” transmission line, over the objections of the plaintiff, and without first having prepared a new EA [environmental assessment].” The filing asks the court to stop the construction on the pipelines immediately.
The office of the Corporation Counsel did not return repeated calls for comment on the recent motion. A court date has been set for Jan. 10, to be heard before Judge Joseph Cardoza at 8:30 a.m. MTW