Martha Vockrodt-Moran is a wildlife artist, manager of the D.T. Fleming Arboretum at Ulupalakua and granddaughter of Fleming himself. As such, she’s spent many hours at the Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary in Kahului, quietly watching and painting endangered Hawaiian stilts, coots and ducks.
So imagine her outrage when she learned that Maui’s new proposed abandoned vehicle crushing and storage facility will sit less than 150 feet from the Kanaha sanctuary.
“When I realized that the crushing/storage facility was directly next to the Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, I was shocked,”said Vockrodt-Moran. “Kanaha is not the place for scrap metal processing!”
The Sanctuary is one of just two wetlands on Maui that provide a place for Hawaiian stilts, coots and ducks as well as other, less endangered migrant shorebirds to feed and breed. In a sense, it’s one of the last places on Maui where these native species are trying to survive the big squeeze of Maui’s growing industrialized pressure.
The crushing facility will be run by Mike Kitagawa’s Towing and Transport Company. After first removing gasoline, motor oil, fluids and coolants as well as pulling the battery, gasoline tank, coolants, tires, rims and freon at their property on Alamaha in Kahului, they will transport the junked cars and appliances to the new site next to the Sanctuary, which will sit on the lot behind Bounty Music and Second Wind.
Because the property is considered a “sensitive shoreline area,” Kitagawa needs to obtain a county Special Management Area (SMA) permit from the Planning Department before crushing his first car.
“One of the objectives of a SMA is to protect habitat, plant and animal species and coastal resources,” said county planner Colleen Suyama. Part of her job is to compile comments from various state and federal agencies. “If these agencies express concerns about the potential impacts to these resources,” she said, “Mr. Kitagawa will need to mitigate these concerns.”
The comments show that many of these agencies are seriously concerned. For instance, Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) officials are worried that the noise from crushing cars might damage the wildlife sanctuary.
The main noise issue concerns a federally designated wetland called “Lot 7 Pond,” which is directly adjacent to the Kitagawa property. While it’s not within the Sanctuary boundary, Lot 7 Pond is a sensitive area for breeding, loafing and feeding for Hawaiian stilts and coots. Sanctuary Manager Dr. Fern Duvall has watched the birds with their young in this area. DLNR has made clear that it believes the project would “affect” the endangered water birds that use the Lot 7 Pond.
“The Hawaiian stilts are extremely sensitive to loud noises and visual disturbances,” said Dr. Eric Vanderwerf, Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a telephone interview. Vanderwerf believes that the flatbed trucks coming and going as well as the car crusher, forklift and other heavy equipment will disturb these endangered birds especially during nesting season, which takes place from April to September. Often, the nests will lie just a few feet from the property’s boundary.
The Fish and Wildlife Service told the County that it believes the “processed” automobiles will not be contaminant-free by the time they reach the crushing yard. They believe differentials, transfer cases, viscous couplings and air conditioner compressors are “difficult to consistently recognize, locate, and completely drain even for trained mechanics.” Fish and Wildlife officials noted that when crushed, such fluids could leak into the surrounding area pond.
They also noted that a car’s brake pads and other solid components containing heavy metals and other hazardous materials are not slated for removal during processing. The department believes there is a possibility these solid components may release residue into the crushing yard.
Kitagawa’s SMA application also contains an intriguing line about how storm water runoff from the site will “sheet flow into the adjacent drainage canals,” which drain into the ocean. Duvall has seen these endangered birds nesting in these canals and believes that when it rains, polluted fluids and toxic residue could end up discharged into the canal.
For his part, Kitagawa said he wants to do whatever it takes to address these concerns. He is planning on placing the car crusher on a concrete slab with a berm to prevent water from flowing into the soil or into the canals. If vehicle fluids spill on the ground, he says he will cover the spill with “Oil Sponge,” an absorbent that should encapsulate any contamination. Kitagawa said his people will remove any the affected soil and take it to the C&D Landfill.
Kitagawa acknowledges crushing cars and appliances will make a lot of noise, but denies that it will be harmful to the Sanctuary. “I think the noise of the airplanes and the highway noise is much worse,” he said.
While he’s technically correct, highways and airplanes don’t sit next to the Sanctuary.
Kitagawa said he plans on running the car crusher four hours a day. The car and appliance loads will vary, but he said the crusher will take approximately 10-15 minutes to “sandwich” a load of three to five vehicles plus 10-12 “white goods”like refrigerators, washing machines, stoves and heaters. To partially hide the car-crushing operation from the stilts at Pond 7, Kitagawa wants to surround it with large boulders.
Should Kitagawa fail to alleviate these problems, he’ll have to file a SMA Major Permit application. That will require a Planning Commission review and thorough public study.
But residents like Vockrodt-Moran have a simpler idea: just put the facility somewhere else, somewhere far from one of Maui’s most sensitive wildlife environments. MTW