Part of the discussion was our proposal to add new language to the title and duties of our Department of Environmental Management in order to expand our focus on sustainability. The concept was well received, and one commissioner remarked, “I think the time is now,” [for this idea]. I not only agree, but actually think this move is overdue.
For much of the past decade, various groups and individuals have stressed the need to shift our dependence on imported goods and to strive for more self-sufficiency. The state launched an ambitious Hawai‘i 2050 Sustainability campaign a few years ago, culminating in a final report with goals and recommendations. But at the end of the day, we are still largely dependent upon food and energy imports, and haven’t done all we could to embrace a “Green Economy” to help diversify and strengthen our economic base.
At the same time, we have to recognize how much we are playing catch-up to try to correct past mistakes or omissions in our governing process, especially as they pertain to our environmental resources—one of our most attractive and marketable features. Last winter’s dramatic storm events and runoff reminded us that we have altered entire watersheds, and urbanized natural drainage and wetland areas. While we were diligent in repairing public infrastructure in a timely manner, the near-shore reef eco-systems take far longer to heal from the silt and pollution.
Maui County cannot afford to be in a reactive stance to the next invasive species threat, only to find ourselves overwhelmed and unable to cope, like the coqui frog infestation on Hawai‘i Island. Right now, we’re reaching the point of emergency with growing axis deer populations affecting more of our farmers and ranchers—and even those driving our roadways.
We cannot merely rely on state or federal funding support to deal with our most pressing problems. We need coordinated efforts to address all elements of sustainability, from our natural environment to local food production, from renewable energy to sustainable tourism and more.
The Charter Commission prudently asked what establishing a new Division of Sustainability and Environmental Protection might cost. Frankly, any important initiative our community undertakes comes with a cost. Any upfront organizational expenditure will truly pay great dividends over time, in the same way that a homeowner installing solar hot water or photovoltaic knows he is investing in his future.
When I created the position of Maui County Environmental Coordinator in 2003, we recognized the need to have a point person for working with dozens of conservation groups and agencies. Rob Parsons has served admirably in that role. Now it is time to take a significant step forward in expanding our efforts to include sustainability, just as many progressive cities and counties have done nationwide.