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Honua‘ula-Wailea 670: ‘Not a Done Deal’

Flooding mitigation, natural and cultural resource issues re-emerge during discussion of South Maui’s continuing development.

July 25, 2013
Janet Six - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

The Kihei Community Association met on Tuesday, July 16, at the Kihei Charter School with two items on their agenda: the emergency repair of the seriously deteriorated Kulanihako'i Bridge on South Kihei Road, and the latest incarnation of the continually changing plans for the Wailea 670 development. In both cases, Maui's precious natural resources are in play; KCA members listened intently to the presentations, along with County Councilman Don Couch's representative and state Sen. Roz Baker, who were also in attendance.

David Goode, director of the County Department of Public Works, summed up the county's position that it's better to be "safe than sorry" when it comes to the Kulanihako'i Bridge, which is located approximately 200 feet south of the Ka'ono'ulu Street intersection nearly adjacent to Kalepolepo Fish Pond.

According to Goode, there are only two choices--closure or replacement. Closure is not a viable option, he said. To avoid gridlock while the antiquated structure is being replaced, the county has proposed a temporary steel panel bridge, similar to ones recently used in Hana, to divert traffic slightly mauka of the current bridge.

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Jacob Mau, lineal descendant of this area, questioned whether access to cultural sites would be provided to native Hawaiians by the developers and future homeowners.

Milton Arakawa of the Wilson Okamoto Corporation elaborated on the design specifics of both the proposed temporary and replacement bridges. The construction of the temporary bridge should commence this summer, he said.

While it is clear the bridge is in real jeopardy and a solution is necessary, several KCA members spoke of the need for a long-range solution to address South Maui drainage problems. Arakawa agreed, stating that there was no regional plan to address Kihei's numerous drainage issues.

Both Goode and Arakawa spoke of the impacts of flood reoccurrence intervals, commonly called "100-year floods." The U.S. Geological Survey Pacific Basin Information Node only has approximately 30 years of flood data from Maui with which to predict two-, five-, 10-, 25-, 50-, 100- and 500-year floods. This absence of information poses a real challenge to the continued development of South Maui, where construction plans continually fail to include adequate drainage mechanisms to address infrequent, yet brutal and costly flash flood events.

The topic of drainage was also raised as a concern during presentations on the proposed development at Wailea 670, or "Honua'ula," as it is currently being marketed. Mauka of the Wailea Resort complex and immediately adjacent to the Maui Meadows subdivision, Wailea 670 refers to the proposed development of 670 acres, 130 of which were recommended for preservation by a County Council zoning condition. But at present, only 40 acres are currently proposed for preservation.

The 130 acres in the south part of the property are covered with a relatively new lava flow, contain numerous cultural sites and many rare and/or endangered native species.

Three presenters provided context about the property. Maui Meadows resident Daniel Kanehele showed images of both documented and undocumented cultural sites, some of which are slated for destruction. Maui resident Dr. Lee Altenberg, an ethnobotanist and evolutionary scientist, spoke to the presence--and absence of--rare and endangered species specifically adapted to Maui's dry land environment. Long-time sustainable planning advocate Lucienne de Naie provided a historical timeline for understanding the constantly evolving planning and permitting processes.

According to Kanahele, as native Hawaiians moved into this area, they adapted to the rugged South Maui landscape. Experts at dry land farming, they channeled and captured the precious moisture during seasonal floods as it made its way through gulches to the ocean. In doing so, Hawaiians harnessed and increased the natural potential of their 'aina.

By slightly modifying the natural environment, native Hawaiians were able to thrive in what is now often misconstrued as a marginal environment of nominal importance, said Kanahele.

A significant portion of the landscape now slated for development includes ancient retaining basins, agricultural walls and terraces, stepping stone trails, habitation and ceremonial sites.

Of concern to Kanahele and others are numerous unrecorded cultural features that are not included in the Archaeological Inventory Survey (AIS) submitted as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the development.

Dr. Altenberg echoed many of the same sentiments as Kanahele, elaborating that by observing where endemic, drought-resistant species flourished, native Hawaiians identified access to water--whether intermittent surface runoff or deep perennial ground flows. Altenberg said the southern 130 acres covered by "fresh" lava are an ideal habitat for many endemic, native xerophytes--plant species uniquely evolved to flourish in this rugged environment.

Conditions for the proposed project's rezoning state that a 130-acre native plant preserve shall be set aside "excepting for portions which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wildlife scientists determine do not merit preservation." In 2010, USFWS and wildlife scientists--including Dr. Altenberg--sent letters to the developers stating that in their expert estimation all 130 acres should be preserved.

Rare native plants to be affected include the wiliwili tree (Erythrina sandwicensis). Altenberg noted that only 5 percent of the wiliwili forest that once blanketed much of Maui remains today.

Under the current preservation plan put forth by the developers, Altenberg said acres of healthy wiliwili stands--75 percent of over 2,000 documented trees--other rare species and numerous undocumented cultural sites will be bulldozed, and this critical habitat will be paved over to make room for shopping centers, condos and golf courses surrounded by luxury homes.

The developers' plans include a private water supply that will not impact the already declining 'Iao Aquifer, but since their source is brackish, treatment will be expensive. In addition to the water expense, terraforming many acres of Maui's landscape comes at a hefty price--one that many South Maui residents may not be willing to pay.

De Naie noted that the Maui Sierra Club has followed the Wailea 670 project for over a decade. She spoke last, driving the point home that "all is not lost" if the community acts quickly. She illustrated with maps that the proposed Wailea 670 development plan has changed configuration over the past five years, since the first-phase approvals of 2008.

While the placement of the proposed preserve area has remained the same, the maps show that a concentration of commercial and higher-density, multifamily units have been gradually moved near the Pi'ilani Highway/Wailea Ike intersection. The 50 acres originally proposed for "Village Mixed" use (residential and shops) now include no housing--only commercial use.

"Wailea 670 is not a done deal," de Naie noted. "Its plan continues to change, and it certainly would have the ability to keep changing to accommodate the originally proposed 130-acre preserve."

She also emphasized drainage issues as a concern, since the 26 proposed retention basins would be expensive for homeowners to maintain. (Some steep erosional gulches onsite are not currently identified on the project plan.)

De Naie added that upslope storms already carry huge volumes of water through the proposed project area, and she voiced concerns about basin maintenance to avoid impacts to land and waters downslope. She also noted that most Wailea 670 gulches will contain many obstructions on the way to the shore, such as condo landscaping.

All three speakers urged the developers and community members to see the cultural sites and native species as value-added elements that could be marketed as a positive rather than something to be trivialized and mitigated.

Their message was clear: By continuing to deforest Maui and bulldoze little-understood and poorly documented cultural sites, we will continue to do the island and the native Hawaiian culture a disservice. Their other key point--it's not too late to hold the developers to the original plan and call for the entire 130-acre native plant preserve.

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