By Anthony Pignataro
WASTE NOT, SUE NOT
Even after two years away from Maui, I’m pleasantly surprised to see so much of the island virtually unchanged. Paia retains its quaint feel, Haleakala still looks gorgeous in the early morning air and environmentalists are still battling the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. I can remember talking to locals expressing their disbelief that developers would build (much less sell) the Honua Kai timeshares across the street from this often rank sewage treatment plant, but hey—the joke was on us.
Anyway, the latest volley is a formal notice filed last week from Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm. According to the firm, a coalition of environmental and community groups will sue the County of Maui over its alleged “ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act” at the West Maui sewage treatment plant.
“The County’s facility injects millions of gallons of wastewater every day into the ground water,” stated a June 29 Earthjustice press release. “Although the water is treated at the facility, it still contains bacteria, chemicals and other pollutants when it is pumped into the ground. The County has known for many years, and scientific studies have shown, that this wastewater flows through the ground water into Maui’s nearshore waters, where it degrades the water quality, presents health risks, and promotes algae blooms.”
According to the Earthjustice, these pollutants and algae blooms are killing West Maui coral reefs and seriously harming water quality. They also say the county “has never obtained” a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that is required by the federal government and would govern waste discharges.
“By providing the County with notice of our intent to sue, we are telling Maui County how urgent it is that they stop these illegal discharges,” said Hannah Bernard, president of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, in the Earthjustice press statement.
Since words like “illegal” and “lawsuit” pepper the statement, I figured it wouldn’t be long before the county responded.
“The County of Maui operates its Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility under permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (‘EPA’) and the State of Hawaii’s Department of Health (‘DOH’),” read the county’s statement, sent out five hours after the Earthjustice notice. The really fascinating thing about the county’s response is that while officials admit that waste discharges are ongoing (they insist the cause of algae blooms is still unknown), they say the Fed is perfectly fine with it. Or at least, they are for the moment.
“Part of this cooperative process between the County, the EPA, and DOH includes scientific tracer and seep studies to determine whether a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (‘NPDES’) permit is needed for the Lahaina facility,” says the county statement, which came from Ryan Piros, assistant communications director for the county. “Until those studies are complete, any talk of alleged violations is premature at best.”
So there you have it. And by “it,” I mean “nothing conclusive whatsoever.” The county says they’ve started the NDPES permit application process, and Earthjustice says they’re suing in 60 days. Everyone wins!
ALOHA OFFICER TAGUMA?
Just about everyone who has to park his or her vehicle in Wailuku Town knows of Maui Police Officer Keith Taguma. He’s easy to spot, wearing a helmet and motoring around town in his souped up MPD golf cart while patrolling two-hour spots, chalking tires and writing thousands of parking tickets. Seriously, he must go through parking ticket pads like the rest of us consume oxygen molecules.
Taguma is a cool, calculating, parking infraction-writing machine–our island’s super meter maid. But a new Maui Redevelopment Agency study says he’s also obsolete.
According to Downtown Parking & Planning Associates’ May 2011 study Parking Management Plan Analysis, the county should replace all free 12-hour parking spaces in town with paid parking. The firm also recommends installing parking meters along the street, and hiring proper, dedicated meter maids to patrol them.
That’s right folks—Taguma would get reassigned to regular patrol duties. The biggest reason for such a drastic recommendation: Wailuku Town should have 3,491 parking spaces, but only currently provides a paltry 2,743 (also, a slew of parking meters would generate something like $395,760 in county revenue).
“Downtown parking is problematic and a barrier to the economic health to downtown,” said a study focus group, according to the July 4 Maui News. “Parking needs to be improved through increased supply and better management.”
Of course, taking Taguma off parking patrol is just a small part of what will have to be a very large plan to deal with parking demand in Wailuku Town. The current 748-parking space deficit in town, for instance, is nearly twice the number of spaces provided by the proposed municipal parking garage that would hold five levels and sit between Main, Market, Church and Vineyard streets (that garage is slated to hold 418 cars). ■