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Atherton’s Waikapu project finishes evidentiary phase

LUC chairman orders drafting of panel’s proposed final action

Motorists drive by the Maui Tropical Plantation on Honoapiilani Highway on Thursday. The highway divides the northern and southern portions of the Waikapu Country Town project planned by developer Mike Atherton. Improvements to intersections in the region would need to be done to accommodate a projected increase in traffic through 2026. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — The state Land Use Commission completed the evidentiary phase of its review of the Waikapu Country Town project on Thursday.

Commission Chairman Arnold Wong directed attorneys representing the developer, state and Maui County to prepare proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and a decision and order for the panel’s final action.

Developer Mike Atherton is seeking a state district boundary amendment from agricultural to rural for 150 acres and from agricultural to urban for 335 acres. If the commission approves the boundary amendments, the nearly 500-acre development would need a change of zoning and a community plan amendment from Maui County — a process expected to take two to three years.

On Thursday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, the commission heard support for the project from Department of Planning Director Will Spence and state Office of Planning Director Leo Asuncion.

Spence told commissioners the project area already has been designated as a planned growth area in the Maui Island Plan, and the county has designed the land within its urban and rural growth boundaries.

Water flows down into a pond Thursday outside the Mill House restaurant at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu. At full build-out, the proposed Waikapu Country Town project surrounding the plantation would need an estimated 683,000 gallons of water daily. On-site groundwater wells would meet that demand, according to project plans.

Among other things, Asuncion said the developer should be required to mitigate all project-generated traffic impacts as required by the state Department of Transportation.

The state-maintained Hono-apiilani Highway divides the northern and southern portions of the development, and traffic congestion is forecast to grow in the region from people traveling to and from the Waikapu Country Town project and from other nearby developments, including Puunani, Kehalani, Maui Lani and the Waiale housing project.

Waikapu project plans foresee the main vehicle access point being via Honoapiilani Highway by the southern extension of the Waiale Road bypass, which has been planned but not built.

Asuncion said the developer should do a supplemental traffic analysis to evaluate roadway conditions without the bypass road, especially after completion of the project’s first “Village Center” phase, estimated in 2022.

The initial project phase is mauka of the highway and on the same side as the Maui Tropical Plantation. That construction phase is expected to build 731 residences, an elementary school, a park and 170,000 square feet of commercial, industrial and government areas. Traffic estimated for that phase would be 700 vehicle trips in morning peak traffic and 1,000 trips in the afternoon.

Old sugar mill equipment adds decor to the outside of the Mill House restaurant Thursday at the Maui Tropical Plantation. The proposed Waikapu Country Town project would surround the Maui Tropical Plantation.

The second phase would add 848 homes and 6 acres of parks and open space. When completed around 2026, the development overall would generate an estimated 1,200 vehicle trips in the morning and 1,500 in the afternoon rush hour.

In other witness testimony, developer consultant Daniel Lum, a hydrogeologist and owner of Water Resource Associates, described his work to assess the sustainability and water quality of groundwater wells proposed as sources of freshwater for the development.

Located in the Waikapu aquifer, the three wells were pumped simultaneously and continuously for 10 days in April and May 2016 (at rates of 1.39 million gallons per day, 1.03 mgd and 1.07 mgd, respectively), he said. The total of 3.49 mgd for the 10-day period was higher than the 3 mgd sustainable yield established by the Commission on Water Resource Management for the Waikapu aquifer, he said.

(Sustainable yield refers to the amount of freshwater that can be pumped safely without contaminating a well with underlying saltwater.)

Three other groundwater wells on the project site, located at lower elevations and without pumps installed, were used as observation points and to record water levels, he said.

Wells 1 and 2 were determined to have combined sustainable pumping capacity of 2.4 mgd, which Lum said easily supplies the estimated daily water demands of the development’s first (348,000 gallons per day) and second (335,000 gallons per day) phases, which would combine to amount to 683,000 gallons per day.

He pointed out that the development’s water demand at full build-out would be 22.8 percent of the Waikapu aquifer’s 3 mgd sustainable yield.

Looking at water quality, Lum said the state Department of Health’s standard for the amount of chlorides, or salt, allowed in drinking water is 250 milligrams per liter.

Well 1 produced the most salt-free, or “freshest,” water readings at 40 milligrams per liter, followed by well 2 with about 100 milligrams per liter, he said.

Well 3, located in a lower level area of deposited stream material, saw chloride levels ranging from 25 to 109 milligrams per liter, he said.

The Waikapu Country Town would be located north and south of the Maui Tropical Plantation, which is part of 2,000 acres straddling Honoapiilani Highway that Atherton purchased from Wailuku Agribusiness nearly a decade ago.

The developer has pledged to preserve 800 acres in agriculture in perpetuity. Another 277 acres would be dedicated to diversified agriculture.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.