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Public Comments on A&B Application for 30 year East Maui Water Lease Heard

(L-R) James "Jimmy" Gomes, Maui member of the state BLNR, Albert Perez, Executive Director of Maui Tomorrow, Brendan Balthazar, a Maui rancher
About 120 Mauians attended a public meeting last night (Feb. 22) to hear public comment on the request by Alexander & Baldwin and East Maui Irrigation for a 30-year lease on East Maui water. The comments were in response to an Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice (EISPN) published in Feb. 2017. This is a 105-page document which summarizes the relevant facts, affected areas and populations and contains written comments received so far relating to the proposed lease and its terms.

The EISPN was prepared by Earl Matsukawa, an executive planner with the firm of Wilson Okamoto Corp., a Honolulu company retained by the lease applicant to take the necessary steps leading to preparation a formal Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

Earl Matsukawa, a planner with Wilson Okomoto Corp., Honolulu wrote the EIS Preparation Notice, a 105 page document published in Feb. 2017. He led the meeting and gave introductory remarks.

Matsukawa was present at the meeting and briefed those who attended on the process. As he explained it, even though their client was A&B, the task at hand was not to represent the client’s point of view, but to gather all the necessary and relevant factual information over a wide current and historical framework and present it in a manner that would be acceptable to the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Once deemed acceptable it would serve as the factual basis for further consideration and eventually be heard by the decision-making board of that department (BLNR). Matsukawa also noted that should the EIS eventually prove acceptable, the end of the process would be a public auction, and that although A&B was the applicant, it might not be the eventual successful bidder.

Over 40 speakers were heard during the meeting which lasted over two hours. Those who spoke included fishermen, farmers, ranchers, taro growers, residents of East Maui, Upcountry and other parts of the island.

The topic that came in for the most comment was the need for water to maintain and expand existing agriculture, ranching and taro growing. A number of those who spoke emphasized how necessary the East Maui water was to Upcountry Maui, where it serves as the drinking water supply for those who live in that region. Most speakers from East Maui noted that since the plantation has ceased and water flow in the streams has, in most cases, increased and there has been a return of fish and other marine life to the streams and estuaries which have been generally beneficial.

A great deal of skepticism was expressed over the current repair and maintenance of the EMI aqueduct system. Multiple speakers voiced concerns about leaks, breaks, waste, failure to maintain or repair the system as it presently exists. They also noted past and continuing exclusionary practices where the company bars access to lands and trails in the public domain.

Many raised questions not only about the current viability of the system but the ability of EMI to adequately maintain or upgrade it in the future. These concerns were also voiced in the notes section of the EISPN (see link to EISPN pages 62-101).

Some who spoke thought that the privately owned EMI aqueduct should be taken over by the state or county, others felt that neither was well suited to maintain, repair, or upgrade the existing system, and many of the early consultation comments focused on this area of infrastructure. The comment letters also noted the exclusionary practices which kept citizens from accessing public lands and trails.

According to the EISPN report “the collection system known as the EMI Aqueduct system spans Nahiku, Keanae, Honomanu and Huelo watersheds and consists of approx. 388 separate intakes, 24 miles of ditches and 50 miles of tunnels as well as numerous small dams, intakes, pipes and flumes. The EMI Aqueduct system collects water from approx 50,000 acres of land, of which approx. 33,000 acres are owned by the State of Hawaii and approx. 17,000 acres are owned by EMI (the oldest subsidiary of A&B).”

Another thread running through the meeting was the length of the lease, with many thinking 30 years was far too long, too broad and granted too many benefits to the applicant and not enough benefits to the public. Multiple speakers raised issues relating to promises made by the company and it subsidiaries in past years alleging bad faith and saying that the credibility and track record of A&B, HC&S, EMI was low. Unanimously those who commented in this manner felt granting of such a long and wide reaching lease was not in the public interest.

Also in the audience were a variety of political faces, elected, appointed, past, present, and those who might run for office in the future. These included Jimmy Gomes, the Maui’s appointed representative on the BLNR, Alika Atay, Yuki Lei Sugimura (both present members of the Maui County Council), Mike Victorino (a former council member), Alice Lee (also a former council member), Tiare Lawrence (recent political candidate for an Upcountry state house seat). Lee and Lawrence both gave testimony. David Taylor, director of the Maui County Department of Water Supply (DWS) was the only public official present from beginning to end. Taylor’s department also submitted substantial written testimony to the comments section of the EISPN.

The Feb. 22 meeting was one of two public comment events related to the lease application. The other is tonight: Thurs., Feb. 23 at the Haiku Community Center, beginning at 5 pm.

Testimony can also be sent written form and can be mailed to Wilson Okamoto Corporation, 1907 S. Beretania Street, Suite 400, Honolulu, HI 96826, Att: Mr. Earl Matsukawa or emailed to [email protected] . Deadline for receipt is March 10.

Matsukawa said that all testimony received in oral, written or email form would be included in the forthcoming draft EIS. He further noted that because of an instance where email testimony had been sent but not received, going forward all email testimony would receive an email acknowledging receipt of their communication. Though the meeting was held at the MECO building, Matsukawa took pains to point out the location was as a courtesy to the community and that there was no relation between the electric company and the ongoing EIS process.

Page 1/2 More About the EISPN by clicking page 2 below

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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