State boating officials say it will be at least another two to three years before Ma’alaea Harbor can get anything like a proper sewage pump-out facility. That means the commercial boats based at Ma’alaea Harbor will continue to dump their untreated human waste into the ocean three miles from Maui’s shoreline for another two years at least.
Local environmental activists find this appalling, but they’re not alone. Instead of waiting, the commercial boat operator Trilogy Excursions has spent the last six months paying a pump truck to suck out the wastewater from their two commercial boats docked at Ma’alaea harbor.
“I’m not doing this for the press,” said Captain Jim Coon. “I just want to get the job done.”
And while pumping his boats has increased Trilogy’s expenses, Coon is pleased that his company is no longer part of the problem. “Now we only take pictures and leave bubbles,” he said.
While Trilogy has already been pumping their four Westside boats at the Lahaina harbor pump-out station, they needed to make a few adjustments to their Ma’alaea fleet to begin pumping at that harbor.
To keep costs down, Coon installed larger holding tanks in the two boats so they would only have to pump once a week. Trilogy also added port-a-potties at the Ma’alaea slips and crewmembers ask customers to use the facility before they board.
“When we explain to people that we don’t dump any waste into the ocean they are respectful and thankful of what we’re doing,” said Coon. He added that the move has also increased Trilogy’s monthly labor costs since they have to pay the Ma’alaea crews for an additional hour of work while the boats are being pumped.
Making matters worse, the two to three year figure for building a Ma’alaea pump-out station may be ambitious. When I asked Richard Rice, the harbors administrator for the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation about that time span, he raised his hands, crossed his fingers and said, “That’s if the funding comes though.”
Rice said he would know “any day now” if a $11.5 million Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant has been approved that would allow his department to begin designing the harbor’s improvements.
The federal transportation funds will cover replacing the existing cesspool with four individual wastewater systems, rebuilding the old Sea-Flight terminal building and landing and installing a single sewer pump-out station next to the new inter-island ferry terminal. A wastewater line running the length of the south mole—where the commercial boats slips are located—will connect to an individual wastewater system behind Buzz’s Wharf.
Rice added that this federal grant will not include access points into the main wastewater line so commercial boat owners could hook on and pump-out their wastewater. As far as Rice is concerned, that’s the responsibility of the individual boat owners.
“The situation is similar to an individual building a house,” he said. “The county provides the main sewer line, but each homeowner has to pay to hook into the sewer line. The state is going to provide the main wastewater line for the boats to hook into, but they will have to cover the expenses to hook into it. It’s their responsibility. It’s a cost of doing business.”
In any case, activists with the “Pump-It Don’t Dump It” group—a grass-roots community effort of about 50 Maui residents—were happy to hear that Trilogy is setting an example for other boat owners to follow.
“While it’s obviously the state’s responsibility to provide a pump-out system for the boats at the state harbors, the boat owners also have a responsibility,” said organizer Mike Moran. “After all, if the beaches and parks don’t have a handy trash can, responsible users don’t just throw the trash into the ocean.”
Group member Richard Fairclo agreed. “It’s shameful that the tour boats have been dumping feces, urine and chemicals in and around the Marine Sanctuary for so many years,” he said. “They make money on the resource and tell everyone that they respect it, but their actions show they don’t.”
Activists say they will be picketing Ma’alaea harbor and the Wailea hotels and activity booths this whale season. They want a more immediate solution to the dumping and say they’re not willing to wait three more years for action.
“I don’t want to add to the collective frustration the community has over that lack of action on behalf of the state and boat owners,” Coon said. “For me, this is more about principle than money. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”