Headlines read: "Honua'ula clears major approval hurdles." In reality, a number of important reviews and approvals lie ahead.
Wailea 670 (now called "Honua'ula") proposes a large golf course development. Many promises were made to deal with its numerous impacts. The project's final environmental impact statement (EIS) was legally required to discuss both impacts and alternatives. Did it? This depends whose side of the story one hears.
Wailea 670 has not completed its basic archaeological review. The Maui Planning Commission was told that Hawai'i State Historic Preservation Office personnel changes have delayed approval. Pubic records show 11 years of communications from state Historic Preservation Office staff repeatedly asking Wailea 670 consultants for more readable maps, better research and documentation of additional sites. Wailea 670 consultants contended their survey was complete. When the state insisted on more work, more sites were found.
From 1988 to 2004, a succession of landowners claimed Wailea 670 had no rare, threatened or endangered native flora and fauna. Thanks to citizen efforts, the southern portion of Wailea 670 is now recognized as a rare biological treasure. Wailea 670's habitat conservation plan, protecting several endangered species, will need to undergo a separate federal environmental assessment.
After all of that is complete, Wailea 670 will need phase two project district approval. The final EIS is part of that approval. The EIS acceptance is not a surprise. The Maui Planning Commission rarely has five votes to reject an EIS. Their focus is to get questions answered. Wailea 670's EIS still dodged some of the tough questions.
The Planning Commission saw pictures of Wailea 670, an arid grassland with streets and houses surrounded by verdant trees. What if Wailea 670's six wells can't pump enough brackish water for the golf course and picture-book residential landscaping without getting increasingly saltier? Can each household really get by on 275 gallons of desalinated potable water a day? Would 10 percent fewer units and less landscaping be a more practical alternative? In a 2,000-page EIS--no discussion.
Citizens and wildlife scientists advocate for Wailea 670's southern 130 acres to be left a natural, native ecosystem. Wailea 670 consultants claimed this option would violate density and drainage requirements. Is there flexibility to meet those standards? Would costs avoided by not building roads, sewage and water hookups in this rugged lava flow region offset fewer lot sales? The EIS did not compare options.
EIS requirements state: "Particular attention shall be given to alternatives that might enhance environmental quality or avoid, reduce or minimize some or all of the adverse environmental effects." The reality is, this project should follow the law.