The precipitous panorama of the Honokahua ahupua’a, roughly between Napili and Honokaa, crowns the head of Maui’s buxom bust. On its Westward end, the bays of Honolua and Honokohau are its jewels. There entombed is primordial fire. The hard, Mars-and coral-colored land—so iron-rich that its hue pays homage to its molten youth—is still locked in an ancient battle with the sea that slowly eats into old, boarblood bluffs which have triumphed over the surf for so long they’ve earned a thick cap of foliage. And a littered highway.
Honoapiilani Highway (Route 30), to be exact. It’s part of the asphalt ouroboros that circumnavigates the Valley Isle’s profile and leaves a wriggling clutch of spawn in every town and in the harbor city at her throat.
Let’s set aside the fact that an island community makes-literal the adage that all roads lead home. The roads that so easily lead to Maui’s most majestic land and seascapes bring the very things that destroy the scenic view: us.
Roadside rubbish is part and parcel for our brutish, fast n’ furious, solipsistic species. Slurpee cups, Styrofoam containers and sunscreen crafts fly from our vehicles as we hurtle across the earth in two-ton steel behemoths, farting dead dinosaurs while we flip the angry bird to the Crying Indian.
Then there are the metal beasts themselves. Along any remote roadside you’ll find broke-down Maui Cruisers which get ditched when the cost of repair outweighs the cost of replacement. And stolen vehicles that were taken for joyrides before being chopped, torched and tossed down cliffs.
But thanks to the sweat of Surfrider Foundation executive committee members Kimo Clark and Les Potts, the upper Westside’s relatively pristine coastal drives might have you fooled into thinking that the dumping problem isn’t that bad.
“See how clean it all looks now?” Potts beams, sweeping his free hand perpendicularly to his truck’s dashboard as he gives me a tour of cleanup work being done along the winding road.
Every morning for more than five years, Potts has painstakingly picked up litter along a 12.5 mile route. He says it took years of effort to catch up with decades of debris–and it’s a job that still requires at least four hours of daily maintenance.
Recently, Potts and Clark—the latter of whom owns and operates Truth Excavation—have taken on the unprecedented challenge of exhuming derelict vehicles from Honokahua. In a span of two tough weeks beginning in late November, the pair removed nearly 40 rotting cars from the area: more than 20 from Punalau, 12 from Kanounou Point, five from Nakalele Point and two from Keawalua Gulch.
Cute n’ cleverly, the pair have dubbed their work the “heavy metal” cleanup–for obvious reasons as well as because they’re both musicians. Clark is the effervescent and heavily inked bassist for The Throwdowns, and Potts plays (most recently) with the Wave Warriors and Space Patrol.
“It’s been a long time coming… Some of this stuff’s been there for 30-50 years,” says Potts, which adds extra headache to their efforts. The really old vehicles are but crumbling piles of rust that need to be removed piece by piece by hand. Of the vehicles that can and have been removed by the pair, each vehicle takes anywhere from one to four hours to unearth and load onto a flatbed. They are then hauled off to the Southside for scrap metal recycling.
Clark’s been a super hero wielding Truth Excavation’s heavy equipment (although it adds considerable wear and tear to the tools of his trade), sometimes having to first clear and level dirt roads to gain enough access to the overgrown cars. Between Surfrider Founation and Maui Land and Pineapple Company (ML&P), Clark has been been reimbursed just a couple hundred dollars for his gas expenses, and he’s otherwise only been able offset mounting costs with the paltry payments from selling the recyclable metal.
Meanwhile, the first years of Potts’s litter cleaning crusade came of his own altruism. Then, about two years ago, he got a management contract with ML&P, which owns most of the land in area. This helped him expand his work to about 3,000 coastal acres and includes emptying of trash barrels (largely provided by Surfrider) made available to visitors of scenic spots like those colloquially known as Blowhole and Windmills.
More than being trash-free, Potts’s signature—literally—is all along the highway in the form of hand painted wood signs, green with white lettering, that help inform visitors and deter dumpers. The “kapu” signs, he says, are the most effective and you can see them nailed to ironwood trees in little alcoves that once were ad lib junk yards.
As we drive along his route, Potts is constantly pulling over to pick up trash. At one point he spots the iconic McDonald’s logo and stops to retrieve the bag. “There’s something about McDonald’s food and the consciousness that it produces–the number one thing that I find are McDonald’s wrappers.”
The weirdest and worst of it: A truckload of possessions hurled down the hillside–whole wardrobes and babies’ things and every private memento. Then there are tampon applicators, especially around the full moon. And all the isle’s roadside lovers’ full n’ flung-rubbers out the window ain’t got nothin’ on the box-worth of used condoms, the ledger of an old batu whore’s night’s work.
Daily (well, except Wednesdays—even sinewy, 60-something-year-old surf heroes need a break once in awhile), Potts hauls out the small stuff with his truck. But the big stuff is taken to a place not far from Honolua, a site he calls his “baseyard,” where it can be sorted for recycling.
There, Potts has organized a parabola of junk into sections, each labeled with his trademark signs. “Landfill” for the hopeless stuff like broken sink basins and fishnets; “E-cycle” for TVs and computer screens; “Appliances” for microwaves and stoves; “Tires” for the obvious (about 100 of which were just collected by Clark and Potts during their two-week heavy metal overhaul); “Metal” for hunks of guardrails, a car door, a gutted scooter and tangles of wires like the tetanus tentacles of Cthulu; and (my favorite) “Maybe Still Can Use” for a leather armchair blooming with stuffing, a graffiti-covered wooden chest of drawers, a vacuum, a tea pot, tools, Christmas ornaments, and a tray of a few dozen shoes more dirt than sole.
Anyone can come to the site and pick at things for reuse, but more importantly, anyone can help with the cleanup. Though Clark and Potts have mastered the majority of the heavy metal removal, there remains a lot of fine-tuning. And it’s effort that will require the work of more than just two men.
When Potts shows me the sites where each vehicle was removed, he points out the waste which remains: a wake of broken glass and plastic, among other rubbish, outlined like chalk at a crime scene. While Truth Excavation’s equipment has been essential for the big and beastly work, there’s a lot left that can only be cleared out by hand. Projects like these will be added to the to-do list of Potts’s monthly “Honolua Stewardship” days, a Surfrider Foundation eco-activism program held every second Saturday.
“Ever since we got the heavy metals out of here,” Potts says, “it’s as if I can feel the land breathing better.” He inhales a gulp of grateful air and exhales with a sense of accomplished relief. Then he notices a piece of trash and pulls over to pick it up.