“The top of that turbine there is as big as a bus,” Ed Lindsey said as he gestured skyward. As he spoke, the blades of the towering structure spun lazily in the breeze. The conditions at the Kaheawa wind farm above Macgregor Point were perfect for a visit, though not so much for the turbines that harness the wind and convert it to electricity, which they’ve been doing since July 2006. On April 11, a small class from Maui Community College made the journey up to the wind farm to learn about Lindsey’s reforestation project as well as leave a few native plants in the soil.
Ed and Puanani Lindsey have been working to preserve native plants in Kaheawa Valley for 30 years. As directors of Maui Cultural Lands, they’re well known advocates for the preservation of Hawai‘i’s land and culture.
“Hawaiian culture is an ancient culture,” Puanani said as she scanned the ground for more invasive weeds to pull from the dirt. “The plants over here are like a time machine, who are we to destroy it? To me, it’s a way of saving native plants remnant to who we are.”
She went about her work with the air of someone who had done this task a thousand times before, but still afforded it her full attention. Along the way, she would pause to indicate the various native species.
“This is a uhaloa,” she said, pointing to a small plant with yellow flowers. She explained that it was very bitter tasting, though the root was often chewed to relieve sore throats. “When I was little, they used to give it to me and I hated it,” she said, shaking her head.
The reintroduction of native plants centers around the first two of the wind farm’s 20 turbines that stretch down a spine of the West Maui mountains, 2,000 feet above Ma‘alaea. The Lindseys take volunteers up every Sunday afternoon to replant, talk story and take in the striking scenery.
“Sometimes we get an army of two or three,” Ed Lindsey said. “Other times it’s 20 to 25. You never really know.”
The late afternoon sun filtered through occasional clouds to cast beams of light onto the mountainside. With the exception of the small group’s quiet conversation, the only sounds were the low whine of the spinning turbine blades. The manufacturer attached whistles to the blades to scare away birds that might otherwise fly into them.
The Lindseys became more involved in conservation work after Ed retired from teaching and Puanani from her job as a police dispatcher.
“Before that, we didn’t have too much time to go out,” Puanani said. “We were raising a family or always working.” She added that both of their families had raised them to speak out on issues they felt strongly about.
“You can’t undersell yourselves as being voices of concern because public officials want you to come in,” Ed said. “They will listen to you. Show up, find out when meetings are. Call people. By not doing these things, you are excluding yourself.”
Which is how they became involved with the wind farm. “We have been trying to get a farm up here for 10 years now,” he said.
Water tanks dotted a nearby clearing, skirted by berms full of newly planted flora. A line of turbines stretched down towards the ocean. The turbines provide about nine percent of Maui’s electricity. According to the Kaheawa website, this eliminates the need for 244,000 barrels of fuel a year.
Kaheawa Wind Power LLC operates the farm. That’s a partnership between UPC Wind Partners and local company Makani Nui Associates, of which Kent Smith of Smith Development is one owner.
Kaheawa Wind Power provides a portion of the money needed to cover the cost of supplies and plants that the Lindseys utilize for the native plant restoration work, with most of the remaining expenses covered by an anonymous local donor.
“We think it’s great,” Mike Gresham of Kaheawa Wind Power said. “We are happy that the group is interested in helping restore the area.”
Gresham added the company also has a full time wildlife biologist to keep an eye on the endangered species in the area—the Hawaiian Petrel, Newell’s Shearwater, Nene and the Hawaiian Hoary Bat. “This is no small effort,” he said.
That’s an understatement. In the last year alone, 15,000 seedlings have been produced for the reforestation project. The plants, like the ones Ed pulled from the back of his pickup truck on April 11, are grown from seeds collected by the Lindseys at the site.
After Ed carefully placed the plant buckets at the edge of the clearing, the students, armed with small shovels, set to work. The soil gave easily and soon emerald plants covered the red embankment.
The students then adorned each plant with a miniature florescent flag and gave it a healthy ration of water. Ed gently rebuffed a few students who tried to wash their hands with the bottled water.
“No, you see, it’s plants first, hands last,” he said. Later he gave them a bucket of water for rinsing.
The Lindseys focus on educating volunteers as much as possible. “We teach that this [land] belongs to everybody,” Ed said. “Learning is not just in school. You should never stop learning.”
Other projects the Lindseys spearhead include a project in Honokowai Valley, an archaeological site where an estimated 600 Native Hawaiian families once called home. The area itself is three square miles, much of it blanketed in a thick tangle of invasive plants. The goal is to eventually uncover the whole site and preserve it as an educational tool for the whole island.
The Lindseys started Maui Cultural Lands in 2002. Their website calls it a “Maui based grassroots land trust organization whose mission is to stabilize, protect, and restore Hawaiian cultural resources.” This was in response to the need they felt for a return to the old Hawaiian tradition of stewarding the land.
Near the end of the afternoon the sun ducked behind a few rain clouds and the already frigid air chilled a few more degrees. As the first few drops of an shower began to hit the dirt, the students packed their things and got ready to head back down the steep gravel road. The weather had been kind to them throughout the day, though it didn’t look like it was going to last much longer.
“The biggest reward is working with people of like heart and like mind, for us to meet people like you, and for you to meet people like us,” Ed told the group. “The human aspect is very important, and so is the educational part. This belongs to everyone and we need to make sure to save it.” MTW