A few weeks ago the state Land Use Commission LUC met at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to discuss the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for Olowalu Town, a massive development project pushed by Bill Frampton and Dave Ward. The project is billed as a “complete community”–containing its own housing, public infrastructure, recreation, commercial development and open space. The LUC didn’t decide the fate of the EIS (or the project), but will meet again at the MACC on Dec. 7 to take it up again.
Given that the project has been in development for the last decade, there’s a considerable cache of documents that outline more than a few concerns. In fact, they catalog a very long list of pretty substantial problems. While the list below is by no means a comprehensive list of everything that’s wrong with the proposed Olowalu Town–that would take something approximating a second environmental impact statement–it does include a lot of issues that might doom the plan. For more information, check out SaveOlowalu.org.
1. Olowalu Town will include approximately 1,500 homes.
2. That means about 4,000 residents would live there.
3. Olowalu’s current population, as of the 2010 census, is 80.
4. The project is so big that it will require the relocation of Honoapiilani Highway as it travels through Olowalu.
5. Though billed as a way to address Maui’s housing need, the project will actually build too much housing for West Maui. “The project will exceed the [Planning] Department’s estimated housing need and provide a rationale for exceeding the demand,” Planning Director Will Spence said in an April 17, 2012 letter to developers Bill Frampton and Heidi Bigelow.
6. Developers bill the project as a “Smart Location” under LEED Neighborhood Development standards. This simply means that it encourages the building of neighborhoods near already existing public transportation. The county’s Planning Department took issue with this, in its April 17, 2012 letter to Frampton and Bigelow. “Please justify how this project, located four miles away from the edge of Lahaina, meets ‘Smart Location’ for LEED Neighborhood Development standards,” Spence wrote. In their response written three years later, developers Frampton and Ward denied that this was a problem and insisted that “Olowalu has historically been used for housing.”
7. The Draft EIS, issued in 2012, states that “As recently as the 1930’s, Olowalu was a thriving plantation town.” According to the county Planning Department, this isn’t even close to true. “Throughout its history, Olowalu was at most a ‘camp’ and at most a ‘village,’” Spence wrote in his April 17, 2012 letter. “In 1930, census-taker Kenichi Takayama recorded the population of Olowalu as being 447 persons.” Spence helpfully offered to Frampton and Bigelow that the county has “extensive information about West Maui’s camps, villages, and towns, including Lahaina, Olowalu, Puukolii, and Ukumehame if you would like further clarification.”
8. Most of the maps included in the EIS aren’t to scale. “[A]almost all maps say “Not To Scale” which makes it difficult to determine distances among and between uses,” the State Office of Planning (OP, which advises the LUC) said in a Nov. 17, 2015 letter to the LUC. “The Conceptual Master Plan map in particular, should be to scale.”
9. The public has never given a chance to review the developers’ complete Traffic Impact Analysis Report, which the state OIP told the developers to prepare back in 2012. “Given the significance of the issue and extensive revisions made following the “Preliminary” TIAR, the public should be given the opportunity to review this final TIAR,” the state Office of Planning said in their Nov. 17, 2015 letter.
10. Archaeological studies and surveys “for the entire Olowalu area were not included in the Draft FEIS,” stated the OP on Nov. 17, 2015. This is concerning because “new sites and cultural material have been found” in recent surveys and the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) “has not reviewed and commented on the Draft EIS,” according to the OP’s Nov. 17, 2015 letter.
11. The project will use a lot of water. The EIS approximates the water use at about 750,000 million gallons per day (gpd). But five years ago, the county’s Department of Water Supply put the estimate at closer to “between approximately 900,000 and a little more than 2 million gpd, according to system standards,” according to an Aug. 5, 2010 letter from then-Water Supply Director Jeffrey Eng to Colleen Suyama, a consultant who was preparing the Olowalu EIS. In that letter, Eng also dryly noted that “as of 2008, the sustainable yield set by the Commission on Water Resource Management for the Olowalu aquifer is 2 million gallons per day.”
12. The project will draw water from state lands. “Source of surface water is state lands,” states a handwritten note on a Mar. 20, 2012 memo from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. “Applicants need to work towards getting a water license and license to access state lands.” More than three years later, on Oct. 26, 2015, Colleen Suyama replied, stating that “We further acknowledge that the source of surface water is State lands. As required, the applicant will obtain a water license and lease to access State lands.”
13. The project will also consume a great deal of agricultural land. And the County of Maui doesn’t like that. “[T]he DEIS inadequately justifies the removal of 621 acres of agricultural land, including 121 acres of Prime Agricultural Land,” Spence wrote in 2012. “Suggesting that these 621 acres are a small percent of Maui’s Agricultural lands neglects the fact that these are prime lands that demand special protection.”
14. What’s more, the lands the developers have set aside for ag are some of the lowest quality in the area. “[T]he majority–80 percent–of the Master Plan Site Area has ‘A’ and ‘B’ classified soils, while about 19 percent of the site is of the lowest, least productive classification ‘E,’” Spence noted in his April 17, 2012 letter. “It is noted that this area where the least productive AG soil exists is the area surrounding the Olowalu Stream–the precise area where the Master Plan proposes to retain as AG land within the Olowalu Cultural Reserve.” In their response submitted three years later on Oct. 26, 2015, Olowalu Town developers Frampton and Ward argued that “farming is not the sole means of improving or increasing the long-term sustainability of Hawaii’s economy” and that “providing homes” could also do wonders. They developers also noted that greenhouses and hydroponic farming are making great strides today.
15. Though they included no detailed protection plan in their EIS, developers insist that “Olowalu Stream will not be altered during implementation of the Master Plan.”
16. According to county Planning Director Will Spence (who noted this in his 2012 letter), the project exists in a “known tsunami and flood hazard area.” In their 2015 response to Spence, the developers said that their “proposed drainage improvements” would “reduce the potential for flooding.”
17. Nene–an endangered species–are found in Olowalu, yet the EIS (as the County of Maui noted in 2012) contains no explanation as to how developers will protect the species. In 2015, the developers responded to the county’s concerns by reiterating that their project wouldn’t harm the birds.
18. The coral reef off Olowalu is one of the healthiest on Maui–perhaps in the entire state. Biologist Pauline Fiene noted this in her 2012 comments on the EIS. “We don’t get to decide where our special natural places are on Maui,” she wrote. “Nature decides that. All we can decide is where our development is going to be. And if there were a reef on the whole island that cries out for respite and exemption from urban development above it, it would be Olowalu. It has developed over centuries and there is literally nothing to replace it.” For this reason, Fiene noted, she was “baffled” as to why a project on this scale was even being considered for Olowalu.
19. In 2015, the project developers reiterated, despite the concerns of Spence and biologists like Fiene, that Olowalu Town “is not expected to adversely affect the reef environment and nearshore water quality.” Big wave surfer and former Maui County Ocean Safety supervisor Archie Kalepa didn’t buy it. “If they develop Olowalu into a community and a hotel, the effect it will have on that ecosystem–the waterfront and the reefs–will be such a great impact that it will socially ruin that reef,” he said. “When I say ‘socially,’ I’m talking about the fishes, the sharks, all the marine life that exist… Olowalu’s one of the few places we have left. I don’t think that from an environmental standpoint that it’s a good idea for us to develop that area.”
20. Though the EIS notes that Olowalu’s irrigation system is “quite dated, with portions of it built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” it neither identifies the system’s location on its maps nor acknowledges that its age may qualify it for listing on the National Register of Historic Places–which Spence said in 2012 may “have an adverse impact on this resource,” as it would require additional protections during the project’s development.
21. The EIS, Spence noted, contains no specific information on how the project will impact police, fire and solid waste services. “It is insufficient to merely state that the hospital or police facilities are located a certain distance from Olowalu, or that a fire station site will be discussed for possible inclusion in the public/quasi-public area,” Spence noted in 2012.
22. Though Olowalu sits astride the only road between Lahaina and Ma‘alaea, the county Planning Department noted that the project EIS doesn’t evaluate the project’s traffic impacts (or what might mitigate those impacts) to those two towns.
23. The project also includes 375,000 square feet of commercial development. To put this figure into perspective, the new Target in Kahului covers 140,000 square feet.
24. In 2012, Spence noted that the project EIS “underestimates” costs to county in terms of police, fire, civil defense, housing and human concerns, public works and planning. It also underestimates costs to the state in terms of education, medical, prison and highway services.
25. Based many of these concerns (as well as others), the state Office of Planning concluded in its Nov. 17, 2015 letter that the LUC not approve the Olowalu Town EIS.
Cover design: Darris Hurst
Cover photo: Chris Archer