Editor’s note: Maui County Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons, a longtime contributor to MauiTime, felt that our recent cover story on anti-seawall activists in Olowalu left out others who helped stop the road project. Here are his thoughts:
I was glad to see MauiTime featured the story on how activists helped the DOT rethink a project for a 900-foot rock revetment just north of Olowalu. This is just one of several erosion hotspots that has drawn attention since a seawall project at Ukumehame resulted in a large plume of red silt, and numerous calls to government officials. One of those calls was from marine biologist Mark Deakos, whose special area of study is manta rays, which congregate in the waters off stretches of the Honoapi`ilani Highway. Deakos called and emailed numerous offices, including mine and County coastal planners Tara Owens and Jim Buika. He also called state officials and learned that several projects were planned, most with reduced public input because they were “emergency declarations,” with federal funds acquired by gubernatorial request after the Japan tsunami in 2011, then Hurricane Iselle in 2014.
It should also be noted that Mayor Alan Arakawa, recognizing the need to move the highway mauka, brought forth the Pali To Puamana Master Plan in 2005. Since that time large tracts of land have been acquired by the County; 100 acres at Ukumehame; and 148 acres at Launiupoko. Arakawa told me that he had told DOT-Highways Director Ford Fuchigami he was “crazy” to pursue shoreline hardening projects, and that moving the road was what’s needed.
But nothing coalesced until activists vowed to hold signs and camp at the construction site as long as necessary. The Maui Tomorrow lawsuit filed in conjunction with Malama Olowalu surely brought the issue onto DOT and Governor David Ige’s priority list, but was never ruled upon due to Circuit Court being absorbed in a lengthy murder trial. Without any court action taken, the sign waving troops settled in for the long haul. In addition to Tiare Lawrence, West Maui resident Kai Nishiki, Frankie Caprioni of Olowalu and countless others should be credited for the effort.
Another marine biologist and long-time Trilogy employee, Cynthia Matzke, traveled to the sign-waving site with another Akaku producer to do interviews. While driving back to central Maui, she called one of Governor Ige’s aides whom she had met at the World Conservation Congress and urged him to alert the governor to direct DOT to seek alternatives.
Back in July, Deakos and a planning consultant with West Maui Land (Peter Martin, et al) drafted a letter to the State Environmental Council, asking them to assess the project and to advise the governor of its short-sightedness. OEQC (which oversees the Council) Director Scott Glenn did so, and accompanied DOT’s Fuchigami, Deputy Ed Sniffen and Attorney General William Wynhoff to the site in mid-September. It was at Peter Martin’s beach front home at Olowalu that an alternate plan was quickly agreed upon, in an all-too-rare example of how citizens and government can work together to find solutions.
Maui Tomorrow’s Albert Perez and Tiare Lawrence of Malama Olowalu were indeed vital to the outcome of stopping a larger shoreline-hardening project. And they no doubt will be equally involved with the ultimate solution of highway realignment to move traffic out of harm’s way, while protecting the near shore coral reefs and their inhabitants.
Photo courtesy Malama Olowalu