2013 A Year Marked by Tragedy and Progress Comes to a Close
Air crashes, shark attacks, a lightning storm named “Flossie,” a reshuffled political deck and a feud between the Maui County Council and Mayor Alan Arakawa were just a few of the many stories to make headlines in 2013.
There were other stories considered for the Top 10 stories of the year, such as the opening of the new Kihei Police Station, the return of the remains of St. Marianne to the islands, plans for a Target and T.J. Maxx in Central Maui, the proposed sale of the Maui Mall by Alexander & Baldwin, the opening of The Outlets of Maui on Front Street, the closing of Treats & Sweets/Dairy Queen in Kahului and The Waterfront Restaurant in Maalaea and a big fire at Hale Kamaole in Kihei.
If there was an 11th top story of the 2013, it would be the legalization of same sex-marriages throughout the state and the first weddings in early December. The issue was a contentious one, fought during a special session of the Legislature in October and November and on Maui as well with religious groups taking out ads and sign waving on the streets. Supporters of gay marriages held rallies of their own.
A poll of The Maui News newsroom resulted in the following Top 10 stories in no particular order.
Air crashes: Tragic and surreal
The first of three air crash landings occurred June 16 when the pilot of a Piper Cherokee on a flight from Honolulu to Maui declared a mayday about 3 to 4 miles from Kahului Airport. The plane went down in brush near the shoreline in Waiehu, with the pilot and three passengers (all flying back to Maui after playing in a tennis tournament on Oahu) all uninjured. One passenger, who declined to be identified, said he was lucky to be alive.
Two days later, an attempt by a Pacific Helicopters crew to haul the aircraft from its landing area in Waiehu failed when the plane spun wildly in the wind because of a bent wing, forcing the crew to drop the plane into the ocean. Two days later, the aircraft was hauled out.
The second crash landing happened Oct. 21 when a Mokulele Airlines Cessna Grand Caravan made an emergency landing on Piilani Highway in Wailea. None of the eight passengers aboard or the two pilots were injured. En route from Kahului Airport to Kamuela on the Big Island, the plane lost engine power before safely landing on the northbound lane of the highway around 7 p.m.
There were no injuries on the ground, although officials said the plane did clip some traffic signs. The crash landing closed Piilani Highway between Kilohana and Wailea Ike drives for several hours.
The third crash, also involving a Cessna Grand Caravan, happened Dec. 11 in the ocean off the coast of Kalaupapa, Molokai, and it led to the death of state Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy. The 65-year-old Fuddy, whose cause of death remains undetermined, was the only fatality among the nine people on board the Makani Kai Air single-engine turboprop when its pilot landed in the ocean about a half-mile northwest of Kalaupapa.
The crash was reported at 3:37 p.m. after a pilot reported seeing debris in the water. The U.S. Coast Guard and Maui Fire Department responded, sending a plane, helicopters and boats for the rescue effort.
While one survivor, a 70-year-old man from Kailua, Oahu, swam to shore, the others were plucked from the ocean by helicopter crews. They were treated and released at the scene or taken to hospitals on Molokai and Oahu.
Richard Schuman, owner of Makani Kai Air, said the pilot did his best to get the plane down safely and to keep the passengers together in the waters off Molokai. Asked how they survived, he responded: “Will.”
“There’s only one engine on that plane and when it quits on you, you just have to deal with it in that moment,” he said.
Shark attacks in Maui waters
Shark attacks near Maui claimed the lives of two visitors in 2013.
On Aug. 14, a shark bit off the right arm of 20-year-old German visitor Jana Lutteropp while she was snorkeling 50 yards offshore of Palauea Beach, also known as “White Rock,” in Wailea. She was rushed in “very critical condition” to Maui Memorial Medical Center, but she had lost an enormous amount of blood and died Aug. 21 after being on life support.
On Dec. 2, 57-year-old Washington state visitor Patrick Briney died after a shark bit off his right foot as it was dangling in the water while he was fishing from his kayak about a half mile off Little Beach in Makena. Briney’s fishing partner heard him scream, paddled about 500 yards to him and found him bleeding profusely. He tied a tourniquet around Briney’s right leg, A nearby charter tour boat from Ed Robinson’s Diving Adventures tried to help, but it was too late.
Overall, eight shark attacks happened in Maui waters, or 61.5 percent of the 13 shark attacks reported statewide in 2013. The overall shark attack number is more than three times the state’s average of four unprovoked shark incidents per year over the last two decades.
In 2012, the state’s 10 shark attacks were unprecedented at the time.
In most of the attacks, victims suffered lacerations and puncture wounds.
In another incident, a shark bit a kitesurfer’s drifting board on Aug. 13 about 50 yards offshore near Ka’a Point west of Kanaha Beach.
The state has launched a two-year study of shark behavior to try to understand the surge in incidents.
On July 29, Tropical Depression Flossie rolled across Maui, bringing a lightning and thunder show rarely seen on the island.
The storm left residents without power in some areas, and parts of Haiku were without water a day later. Rain and wind knocked down utility lines and trees, flooded roads and canceled airline flights.
Despite the storm’s fury, public safety officials reported no major damage or injuries. A lightning strike at a Kahului home caused $1,000 in damage. A light post toppled at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali, and there was a reported close call in Maui Meadows when water from a clogged streambed came near to a home but was diverted before there was major damage.
In Haiku, 47-year-old Mark Minobe was shocked when he reached out to turn on the kitchen faucet during the storm. As soon as his hand made contact with the faucet, a streak of blue light came from the faucet and shocked him, his wife said.
2013 A Year Marked by Tragedy and Progress Comes to a Close
Old Wailuku Post Office controversy
Relations between Mayor Alan Arakawa and the Maui County Council soured in 2013, with much of the acrimony stemming from the administration’s handling of the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office.
Although it was well-known that the former post office at the intersection of High and Wells streets was demolished to make way for a temporary parking lot, council members took issue with the Arakawa administration for failing to amend the county budget to pay around $1.5 million for the cost of tearing down the building and to plan the county’s Wailuku campus expansion.
The budget document called for “rehabilitation” of the building, not its demolition, and the county’s spending plan should have been amended to reflect what was actually done. It wasn’t, and in June Arakawa apologized for the “mistake” his administration made.
“As the mayor, I take full responsibility for this situation,” he said in a news conference. “We were so intent on meeting with council members personally and getting their individual approval that we forgot some of the more formal aspects of the process. . . . Rest assured that we are taking steps to make sure not to repeat this mistake.”
Nevertheless, the council pursued an investigation of the matter.
Later, the County Council refused to disclose minutes of a closed session to discuss the post office’s demolition and went to court to try to keep the state Office of Information Practices from issuing an opinion about a possible Sunshine Law violation.
The county said it would be “irreparably harmed” if the state office were to issue an opinion saying the county had violated the law without giving “proper weight” to the county’s arguments and its assertion of attorney-client privilege in the closed Aug. 14 meeting by the council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.
The committee emerged in open session to ask the county auditor to intervene in the investigation of the post office demolition and to exempt the county corporation counsel from the probe.
The Maui News filed a complaint about a possible violation of the Sunshine Law, which requires open meetings. The county has provided the state OIP with only a redacted copy of minutes of the executive session. Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong said his office believed there was no violation of the Sunshine Law and that the redacted information was covered by “attorney-client privilege.”
A new political landscape
The Dec. 17, 2012, death of longtime Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye continued to be felt statewide, and in Maui County in particular, well into 2013.
His passing triggered a political chain reaction. After Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to Inouye’s seat, the governor tapped Central Maui state Sen. Shan Tsutsui to be lieutenant governor. As president of the Senate, Tsutsui was next in line of succession.
Then, in early 2013, that left open Tsutsui’s seat, which eventually was filled by Kahului Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran, leaving vacant his House seat. Abercrombie then chose Justin Woodson to replace Keith-Agaran.
Meanwhile, Wailuku Rep. Joe Souki was hard at work building a coalition to support returning him to his former position as speaker of the House. He fended off a last-minute challenge from his House opponents, led by former Speaker Calvin Say, and was elected speaker on the Legislature’s opening day.
And, the Maui County Council organized itself behind the leadership of new council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa. After being elected council chairwoman, Baisa said, “I’m not only honored, but I’m terrified.”
Lipoa Point / Kihei high school funded
Maui state lawmakers flexed their muscles in gaining millions of dollars for two big-ticket items on the Valley Isle – a $20 million appropriation for purchase of about 280 acres of undeveloped shoreline at Lipoa Point around Honolua Bay, and $130 million for a new Kihei high school.
The appropriation for the Kihei high school project comes after years of lobbying from South Maui residents and lawmakers who’ve argued that students should not face a long commute to high schools in Central Maui and that overcrowding in those schools would be eased as well.
Lawmakers expected construction to start on the school in July 2015. For now, the only high school in South Maui is the Kihei Charter School, which officials said does not have the staff and facilities to fully meet the needs of students in the region, one of the fastest-growing in the state.
Members of the Kihei High School Action Team were credited with raising public awareness and advocating for the new school with sign-waving and public testimony.
Meanwhile, the state hopes to close the Lipoa Point purchase from landowner Maui Land & Pineapple Co. by the first quarter of 2014, according to West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey.
The company, however, revealed in a quarterly report that the impact of the property’s sale on unfunded pension liabilities remained “uncertain.”
The bill providing funding for the purchase mandated that money received by ML&P go toward defined benefit pension funds and toward absolving the state of remaining liability.
In its third-quarter report at the end of September, ML&P reported unfunded pension liabilities of $24.2 million with those liabilities secured by about 8,400 acres, including Lipoa Point.
Launiupoko land deal
With some persistent opposition apparently worn down, Maui County Council members voted unanimously Dec. 20 to preliminarily approve the county’s purchase of 186 acres at Launiupoko for $13 million.
A second-and-final vote on the matter is set for early January, which was past the Dec. 31 deadline set in negotiations between the landowner and Mayor Arakawa’s administration. However, the council’s first-reading vote apparently was enough to satisfy the property owners, who remained committed to the deal.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White seconded the motion to take the matter out of his committee, although he had often criticized the appraisal process used to set the purchase price as being “significantly flawed.” He had disputed giving value to parcels that owners of the site called “nondevelopable.”
“My committee has been very diligent and patient with the chair in reviewing all aspects of this acquisition proposal. I agree that the council deserves an opportunity to vote on this . . . before the clock runs out,” White said.
Despite having “my own feelings” about the appraisal process, White joined the other council members in supporting the deal.
Landowner Makila Land Co. had stood firm with its $13 million price tag for the property.
Lahaina bypass opens
For decades, the term “long-awaited” has preceded the planned Lahaina bypass road.
But in December, the second phase of the bypass was blessed and opened, allowing West Maui motorists to skip several of Lahaina’s busiest intersections.
The $77 million first phase opened in March. It stretched a little less than a mile and ran from Keawe Street to Lahainaluna Road, and it included the award-winning Kahoma Stream Bridge.
The $25.8 million second phase went 1.7 miles from Lahainaluna Road and continued to Hokiokio Place, bringing the new road to Honoapiilani Highway at Puamana. Now, the new highway is 2.5 miles long and features sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Lahaina town below.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a bypass,” joked West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey at the blessing ceremony of the second phase during the holiday season.
Gov. Abercrombie said the bypass was first conceived when he was in the state Legislature in 1975.
A third phase of the bypass project will begin at Hokiokio Place intersection and run mauka of Honoapiilani Highway to the proposed southern terminus in the vicinity of the old Olowalu Landfill. Future phases will take the road north to Kaanapali. When completed, the full bypass will span 9 miles.
Maui boy helps Red Sox win World Series
Shane Victorino’s first season with the Boston Red Sox was indeed a special one.
Victorino, a 1999 St. Anthony High School graduate, returned from a stiff back to drive in four runs in Boston’s 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the decisive sixth game of the World Series in October.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that Victorino provided some key offense in a postseason clincher – he also hit a grand slam in a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers that ended the American League Champion Series in five games.
Victorino, who signed with the Red Sox as a free agent, made note throughout the season that he hoped the team could help the city forge forward following the fatal bombings at the Boston Marathon.
“The one thing I came here to do is to be a part of this city,” he said after the ALCS. “With all we went through as a city, there’s definitely a bond.”
The government shutdown
The federal government shutdown in October was felt all the way to the summit of Haleakala.
Due to the political clash in Washington, D.C., that left Congress unable to come up with legislation to continue funding the federal government, many federal government services were curtailed and hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed – including most of the staff at Haleakala National Park.
As a result, the island’s top natural visitor attraction was closed to the public. In addition to the disappointment of many tourists, island businesses with ties to the park districts at the summit and in Kipahulu, as well as most of the 80-plus staffers at the park, suffered.
Other impacts included the shutdown of the visitor center and boardwalk at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Kihei. Services to island veterans also were disrupted by the shutdown that lasted from Oct. 1 to 16.