County warns businesses to stop mining sand

Resource is needed for Maui projects and replenishing beaches, Mayor Arakawa says

Alan Arakawa

Maui County is issuing warnings to Maui Lani Partners and a Honolulu-based concrete production company for not obtaining proper permits in removing excess sand during grading work at a Central Maui residential subdivision and taking the material to off-site construction projects, including on Oahu.

Maui County Planning Director William Spence said Friday that the Planning Department is sending the warning letters via certified mail to Maui Lani Partners and Honolulu Construction & Draying. HC&D was identified as the company moving sand from Maui to Oahu in a news report on KHON2-TV that was televised Thursday.

Spence said earlier this week that the county determined “that while the grading permits were issued properly, the excavation and exportation of high quality sand for making concrete and other purposes meets the definition of a ‘resource extraction.’ ”

The resource extraction may require either a special use permit or conditional use permit, he said.

“They are in apparent violation of the zoning code,” Spence said.

According to administrative rules, the county must send warnings before issuing violations, he said.

“While the warnings do not say stop, it is quite clear they should,” he said. “If they do not stop, we will issue violations and fines will start to accumulate.”

In an email Friday, Leiane Paci of Maui Lani Partners said the developers “will coordinate with the county to make sure that all on-site work is in compliance with the approved grading permit.” Maui Lani Partners has not received word about the apparent violations, and “therefore we are unable to provide additional comments,” she said.

Paci said earlier that Maui Lani Partners had received a phone call about the county investigation before Friday and had reviewed their permits.

Wade Wakayama, president of HC&D, declined comment Friday afternoon about the possible violations because his company had “not yet received any formal notification from the county.” He said that the grading activity HC&D is engaged in at Maui Lani is in compliance with the current grading permit.

“We work hard to comply with all legal requirements, and at this time, are not aware of any additional permitting requirements,” he said in an email.

Triggered by the KHON2 investigation, Maui County began looking into grading and sand moving work in Central Maui, according to county officials. The report said Maui Lani Partners has a permit to excavate at one of its sites. A map shows the land is adjacent to Maui Lani Parkway and west of The Dunes at Maui Lani Golf Course.

The news report said trucks transport the sand to a mound on land leased from Alexander & Baldwin. HC&D, formerly known as Ameron, is the lessee and through another permit moves sand from the site to a barge at Kahului Harbor, where it is shipped to the company’s plant on Oahu.

While sand mining is not illegal, some community members are concerned about the resource being depleted and shipped off-island and archaeological damage.

Mayor Alan Arakawa is among the concerned, saying the sand is needed for Maui projects and replenishing beaches. In a letter Thursday to the County Council, Arakawa asked the panel to look into declaring a moratorium “on export of sand mined in Maui County.”

He asked the council to revisit a 2006 study, which showed a five- to seven-year lifespan on inland dune sand if mining continued at the 2006 pace. The letter said the export volume of Maui sand to Oahu exceeds the county’s use by 2.5 to 1.

“There was a slowdown in demand for our sand elsewhere until the rail project on Oahu increased construction,” Arakawa added.

There was no immediate comment on the letter from council Chairman Mike White on Friday. His office noted that the chairman and other council members were working long hours on completing the county budget for next fiscal year and monitoring happenings at the state Legislature, which concludes next week.

Council Member Elle Cochran, who chairs the council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, said Friday that it is time to consider a moratorium on sand exports because it is not a renewable resource. She was made aware of the issue by concerned residents.

“It has been well-documented and shown that miles of our beaches are subject to erosion and sea-level rise and could benefit from restoration, while we are literally shipping away our solutions,” she said. “I look forward to working with my fellow council members and our administration to protect our precious resources.”

If sand mining and grading are stopped at Maui Lani, it could take a half year to a year or more to obtain the additional permits, Spence said.

If a special use permit is required for the sand mining, the process could take six months from application submittal to public hearings, he said. The Maui Planning Commission decides whether to grant the permit.

But if a conditional permit is needed, the process could take a year or more and has to pass the County Council. Determining which permit is required depends on the zoning district of the site.

In the KHON2 story, HC&D said that it has plans to import sand from British Columbia in May, which will offset the use of Maui sand. Wakayama told The Maui News that the Canadian sand is “better suited for our project needs.”

Asked if obtaining Canadian sand versus using Maui sand would increase costs to HC&D’s customers, Wakayama said competitive reasons prevented him divulging cost information.

He explained that his company provides rough grading work to prepare a site for future development. “Contours and final elevations determine if a project will require imported fill or have excess material,” Wakayama said. “When there is excess, we recycle the materials for other uses.”

Sand is not removed “in isolation” of other factors. It “is moved only in conjunction with an approved, permitted project that’s underway, such as a new residential community, commercial project, school, roads or other improvements, with the approval of the project owner or developer.”

“Its uses range from beach replenishment, golf courses/parks, infrastructure construction, and as raw material for ready-mix concrete,” he said.

Maui Lani Partners said in an email that it has worked with numerous local site work contractors over the years in the construction of subdivisions and infrastructure improvements for its development in Central Maui. The developers also recognize that the most efficient subdivision planning involves keeping all graded material on-site. But in some cases, residual material that cannot be used on-site is moved to the golf course or other areas of development.

The final destination of residual material is typically determined by the site contractor, Maui Lani Partners said.

All earth-moving activities are overseen by an archaeological monitor in accordance with the state-approved monitoring plan. Maui Lani Partners has been working with cultural adviser Leslie Kuloloio for almost 20 years.

Under the direction of Kuloloio, Maui Lani Partners has worked cooperatively with the State Historic Preservation Division and the Maui/Lana’i Island Burial Council to redesign subdivisions and to relocate infrastructure to minimize any potential impacts to cultural finds, Maui Lani Partners said.

It added that the more than 1,000-acre master planned community in Central Maui contains many landowners, including Maui Lani Partners, D.R. Horton, Towne Development, HRT, County of Maui, and the state Department of Education.

Each landowner makes its own decisions as to the planning and construction of their property following state and county laws and zoning, Maui Lani Partners said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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