Thieves rip off inmate program

A $40,000 generator to operate a water well was stolen from Maui Economic Opportunity’s Waiehu farm over the weekend, the latest in recent thefts and vandalism on the 11-acre property designed to help people transition from being incarcerated to living in the community.

“This is terrible,” said MEO Chief Executive Officer Lyn Mc-Neff on Tuesday, a day after the generator was discovered stolen by a farm caretaker.

McNeff said she believes the generator, which was on a trailer, was stolen in broad daylight after thieves knocked down a fence and tore open the front of a shed to tow away the trailer with the generator. The nonprofit’s property is on the Waiehu side of the intersection of Kahekili Highway and Waiehu Beach Road. Developer Stanford Carr donated the project site to the agency in 2006. Fence damage is estimated at $500, MEO officials said. Maui police were investigating.

Meanwhile, MEO was assessing what to do after the theft.

“It impacts us. We can’t have any project out there until we get the generator back and the water flowing,” McNeff said.

The loss of the water well generator means farm plants need to be watered by hand. And, it comes a the agency is seeking to restart its farming program after clearing the property of discarded refrigerators, old cars and drug paraphernalia.

In its heyday some six years ago, the farm project, known as Ke Kahua (The Foundation), hosted members of MEO’s Being Empowered and Safe Together, or BEST. The reintegration program aims to help people who’ve been incarcerated make their way back into the community.

The project site featured hands-on training in irrigation, taro farming, cultivation, rock-wall building and landscaping, using traditional and modern technology. There is a traditional hale on the site as well.

The site has hosted many school, civic and community groups. MEO had secured funding from the Administration for Native Americans and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to clear the land and run programs. OHA funds helped run the program when accompanying funding ran out. When OHA funding ended around 2012, volunteers helped maintain the property, McNeff said.

There are still banana plants, plumeria and various papaya left on the property since the programs stopped.

MEO Chief Operating Officer Debbie Cabebe said MEO receives state funding to help with maintenance.

She added that since 2012, the farm has been subject of vandalism and thefts.

“In the past year, the criminal activity has increased,” she said. “In April and May, the property was burglarized when vandals used a metal saw to break into two large storage containers on at least three occasions, stealing equipment and supplies.”

Cabebe said staff members removed any remaining equipment from the property, but left the large generator to operate the well.

The well pump has been stolen twice. Solar panels from an aquaponics project were stolen twice, MEO officials said.

McNeff estimates that at least $50,000 worth of items and equipment have been stolen from the farm. No arrests have been made in the previous theft incidents, she said.

“Stealing from a nonprofit; my goodness that’s public funds, too,” McNeff said.

The generator is an Airman PowerPro 65 Generator, model SDG64. It was insured.

Anyone with information about the thefts may call the Maui Police Department’s nonemergency line at 244-6400 or MEO’s main line at 249-2990.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@maui news.com.