Sand resources need to be protected

Our County

Recently there’s been a public outcry against sand mining on Maui, particularly sand mining that involves companies transporting sand off-island for projects on Oahu, such as rail.

However, this isn’t a new issue, it’s just gotten new attention.

We tried addressing the sand mining during my first term as mayor. Back in the early 2000s we commissioned a study to look at our sand supply and how fast it was dwindling, which resulted in SSFM International Inc.’s “Maui Inland Sand Resource Quantification Study,” which became available to the county in 2006.

The purpose of the study was to quantify Maui’s “available supply of inland sand in order to better manage this resource.”

In particular, the study looked at two concrete companies on Maui — Ameron and Hawaiian Cement — because both companies “depend upon sand as a critical ingredient in their product” and both realized that “the remaining supply is limited.”

The study also noted that “both companies have available inventories that may last another five or six years based upon current usage rates.”

This information was alarming, not just for the construction industry but for our environment and the visitor industry. While a majority of the sand was being used to make concrete — some 3 million tons over a 10-year period — we still needed to use 43,000 tons of sand for beach replenishment.

Armed with the study, I asked the Maui County Council back then to consider a moratorium on the export of sand from Maui. As The Maui News reported on Feb. 19, 2006, “Arakawa asked the council to review the study, ‘and that the option of declaring a moratorium on the export of sand mined in Maui County be explored in order to extend the life of Maui’s remaining sand resources for Maui’s people.’ “

The notion of a moratorium was supported by several council members back then, including Council Member Robert Carroll, who had tried to address the sand mining issue back in 2001 by approaching the state about it. Even Council Member Michelle Anderson, who I rarely saw eye to eye with, said she supported the proposal “100 percent.”

Unfortunately, the moratorium never got passed and there was no follow-up because of several factors. First, there were legal challenges to the moratorium that I don’t believe were resolved. Second, a new administration was in place and third, a few years later the Great Recession hit the country and our construction projects came to a crashing halt, which also meant the stockpiles of sand sat there unused.

Fast forward to 2017 and our construction industry is in full swing again. Good news to be sure, but I was startled when last month my office received a complaint and pictures from a Maui Lani resident who lives across from one of the sand piles. She said the sand was once again being trucked to the dock and being shipped out by barge to Oahu.

We immediately began looking into the situation, and through the research of our Planning Department and Zone Enforcement officers we found that this particular pile of sand in Maui Lani is in a project district. This means that the company or companies doing the sand mining need to stop what they’re doing and apply for a conditional permit.

In response, our Planning Department sent notices of warning to Maui Lani LLC and HC&D, the company that bought Ameron. HC&D responded and said it would not be removing any more sand. As I write this column, Maui Lani LLC has still not responded.

While our Planning Department enforces county code, Council Member Carroll’s office is busy writing new legislation to address sand mining. It might be another attempt at a moratorium or another way to limit the practice and protect our sand resources.

Mahalo to Bob and his staff for taking the lead on drafting a new law. I know it will not be easy but it’s the right thing to do.

We need to protect our sand resources, or soon Maui will have no choice but to import some other community’s sand, just as Oahu is doing.

Those interested in reading the 2006 study can find it here: documentcenter/view/4139.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.