Emergency measure would remove 400 dead eucalyptus trees

A eucalyptus tree fell on Piiholo Road during stormy weather at about 12:30 p.m. Monday. A county crew was called to remove the fallen tree, a common occurrence for Piiholo residents. MIMI BOYUM TACKABERRY photo

Maui County Managing Director Keith Regan, who is filling in as mayor for a vacationing Alan Arakawa, is working with County Council Chairman Mike White on an emergency measure to remove more than 400 dead eucalyptus trees from county-owned rights of way along Piiholo Road.

Area residents have been complaining about dying non-native eucalyptus trees in the area that are being attacked by insects and falling on the road.

In April, a 70-foot eucalyptus tree came crashing down on a Makawao man’s truck as he was heading home on Piiholo Road. The tree, which was not on county property, fell just inches away from the cab. The driver was treated at the hospital and released.

A fallen tree across the road was reported by a Piiholo resident Monday during stormy weather. Even when healthy, eucalyptus trees are prone to falling under windy and wet conditions.

Regan issued an emergency proclamation Wednesday, declaring that the county needed to remove more than 400 dead eucalyptus trees in the county-owned rights of way along Piiholo Road before any more falling trees cause property damage, injury or death this winter.

The proclamation will be officially transmitted to the Office of Council Services today. Regan met with White to discuss the urgency of the situation. White agreed that the county should act immediately to protect residents and travelers in the area before the weather gets worse this season, according to a news release from the Mayor’s Office.

“Safety of our community is a top priority and with the hazards posed by the falling trees, swift action is needed,” said White. “I appreciate the diligent work of the administration and their efforts in mobilizing to address this issue.”

A budget amendment of $1 million will be transmitted to the council for the work today, county spokesman Rod Antone said. The exact amount of emergency funding needed for the tree removal has not yet been determined.

White said Wednesday night that the item will be posted for the next council meeting in a couple of weeks with calling of a special meeting as an option. The amendment will require two approvals and could be expedited by not being referred to committee. Details need to be worked out, such as the final cost and who is going to do the specialized job, he said.

“We have a number of ways” to proceed with the measure, White said.

The $1 million price was estimated based on the $50,000 cost of removing 20 trees in the area in July, White said, adding that maybe the pricing might be lower given the larger volume of trees to be removed.

“It is a danger,” White said. “We need to address it as quickly as we can.”

County Public Works Department officials reported that four trees fell in the last week, he said. In fact, while crews were removing one tree, another one fell on the road.

Regan said that Arakawa gave him the green light to issue the emergency proclamation if needed.

“We know more rain will fall, which will further soften the ground so we need to move quickly,” Regan said.

Responding to the emergency declaration Wednesday, Piiholo resident Mimi Boyum Tackaberry said: “I’m really relieved. It’s dangerous.”

She called the tree removal a “pre-emptive strike.”

“It costs so much to handle one tree instead of just taking them down before they fall down,” she said.

A fallen tree on Piiholo Road at about 12:30 p.m. Monday blocked her way. She called 911 to have the county send up a crew.

When a tree blocks the road, residents have to wait for the county crew to remove the tree or “go to the Stopwatch (Sportsbar & Grill)” in Makawao, she said.

Another option is to take the long winding way around through Olinda Road.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.