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Cane Burning, Wastewater & Axis Deer

Maui County environmental coordinator discusses top concerns and shares mayor’s goal to “reduce the disconnect between eco-issues and economic opportunities.”

December 15, 2011
Ariel Stephens , The Maui Weekly

Last month, Rob Parsons, environmental coordinator for the office of Mayor Alan Arakawa, discussed the mayor's environmental initiatives at a public meeting in Pukalani hosted by Upcountry Sustainability.

"Mayor Arakawa has made good on a campaign promise to focus on agriculture and the environment on Maui," said Parsons. "We have worked to shift the governmental stance from reactive to pro-active."

Parsons identified three areas that he believes are the top "eco-issues" in Maui County-renewable energy integration, wastewater disposal and axis deer culling.

Article Photos

The mushroom clouds of smoke rising from burning cane fields, the accompanying air pollution, noxious smell and the falling ash impact a wide portion of Maui’s land and population, causing great distress for many on the Valley Isle. Maui County Environmental Coordinaror Rob Parsons discussed this and other environmental issues at the most recent meeting of Upcountry Sustainability.
Photo: Debra Lordan

Parsons described the frustration that many feel about "the disparity between what wind power is capable of and what is actually going into the system." Attendees also expressed concern that they wouldn't be able to install solar photovoltaic systems on their property and tie into the grid due to the limit of fluctuating power MECO can take on any given circuit.

Parsons pointed to smart grid integration and the development of energy storage technology as major goals for the county.

The second issue discussed was that of wastewater disposal and injection wells. Parsons described "tracer studies" being done, in which the treated wastewater processed through these wells is marked with a traceable dye, which indicates where the water ends up after it seeps through the many layers of deep rock and soil. These studies may show an undesirable level of treated wastewater ending up in coastal ocean areas.

"We need more UV pre-treatment of wastewater and more options for other eco-friendly uses of safe grey water," said Parsons. "When I hear 'wastewater,' I think 'wasted water.' We may soon find ourselves in conditions where we don't have the rainfall we're accustomed to. We need to focus on purification technologies that may help us use this wasted resource for irrigation or other purposes."

The third issue discussed was cane burning. The mushroom clouds of smoke rising from burning cane fields are cause for great distress for many on the Valley Isle. The air pollution, the noxious smell and the falling ash impact a wide portion of Maui's land and population.

The less visible affects are equally concerning. Parsons explained how "the mass tilling of many, many acres on a day with normal trade winds leads to a lot of fugitive dust, meaning, the loss of huge amounts of topsoil and the endangerment of things like the coral reefs in Ma'alaea due to soil dust settling into the ocean."

Parsons also shared a list of crop control chemicals currently in use at HC&S-with ominous names like "triclopyr," "oltrazine," "oxyflurofen" and "hexazinone."

The frustration in the crowd was palpable and audible. Parsons fielded dozens of questions and suggestions from concerned citizens, describing unsuccessful attempts over many years to lessen the environmental impact of HC&S's actions. A proposal took form for scheduling of an all-inclusive community forum with representatives from the local and county government, HC&S, sustainability groups, the agricultural and farming industries and more. The hope was for a meeting at which "real change that satisfies all parties," where a win-win solutions for both the sugar industry and the community could be discussed.

Although cane burning drew the strongest statements and the greatest frustration that night, other issues also inspired debate.

A proposal to create an axis deer culling program that also provides local venison for sale is gaining momentum. Lokahi Sylva and Phyllis Robinson reported that USDA inspectors were ready to assist in making the program work, De Coite packinghouse is ready to process and package the meat and Maui Cattle Company is ready to distribute and sell the meat.

Many attendees applauded this proposal for management of this invasive species, which has become a problem for Upcountry farmers, ranchers and drivers and South Maui golf courses. Others looked forward to a healthy, local meat source.

But some spoke up for the deer, wondering if there wasn't some other solution that didn't include killing them.

Sylva commented that, without a natural predator to keep the deer in check, more deer will actually suffer due to drought and lack of browse, if the population continues to grow.

Many challenges have made major environmental improvement a slow process. Resistance to change, Parsons believes, is part of human nature, and is something he observes across Maui when it comes to sustainability.

"The struggle to pass or enact meaningful environmental improvements is also worsened by the fact that initiatives require lengthy and costly commitments by multiple interests and groups," explained Parsons.

However, Parsons and the Mayor's Office are full of ideas, and have made many steps toward identifying allies, enumerating challenges and reducing "the disconnect between eco-issues and economic opportunity."

"Perhaps it is becoming clear to the establishment on Maui that there is economic value-money to be made-in focusing on sustainability issues and making 'green' improvements," said Parsons.

He reported his support for the mayor's proposal to the Charter Commission to add language for more focus on environmental protection and sustainability to the "Powers, Duties, and Functions" of the Department of Environmental Management.

According to the proposal, the director of this division would "guide efforts to maximize opportunities for natural resource protection, conservation and restoration" and "coordinate and develop policies and initiatives that integrate sustainable resource development [and] support local food and energy production."

Despite strong opinions on a number of issues, the tone of the meeting remained respectful and considerate. Upcountry Sustainability President Melanie Stephens observed that, "If an upcoming community forum to discuss potential directions for HC&S is to happen and be productive, the community will need to bring every bit of respectfulness, consideration and aloha they possess."



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