Stop the mining and preserve the Central Maui sand dunes

Viewpoint

Maui’s Environmental Court recently reaffirmed its order stopping all sand mining and other activities that disturb the natural dune systems in a section of the Maui Lani Project District. Sierra Club Maui and many other concerned residents have long advocated

to preserve the unique natural inland dune systems of Central Maui and protect the extensive native Hawaiian burial complexes that they shelter from destruction. We urge the community to support all efforts to end the destructive and poorly regulated practice of mining Maui’s unique Pu’u One dune system.

The Wailuku-Kahului Community Plan underscores the cultural importance of the dunes, listing the “Pu’u One Sand Dune Formation from Kahului Harbor to Waikapu” as a cultural resource and wahi pana (significant traditional place). And almost 15 years ago, over 1,000 Maui Nui residents participated in the Focus Maui Nui process. Their vision statement concluded: “That which makes Maui Nui unique in the world will be preserved, celebrated, and protected for generations to come.” This is exactly why so many voices are rising up to speak for the Pu’u One dunes. Maui’s famous natural landscape features are a big part of what make us “unique in the world.”

The grandeur of Haleakala and the mysterious cloud-shrouded peak of Pu’u Kukui are celebrated at home and abroad. Equally unique and remarkable are the magnificent wind-sculpted Pu’u One (“Hill of Sand”) dunes of Central Maui. These dunes are an important part of Maui’s history both natural and human. These dunes hold the stories of traditional legend and history. They are not a renewable resource. Once they have been destroyed, they will not return. A part of Maui will disappear with them.

During the last Ice Age, sea levels were much lower. Broad stretches of beach and their coral-based sands were exposed along Maui’s isthmus. Centuries of wind blowing these sands caused them to develop in a series of successive, long, high ridges with intricate cross layers of deposits. With the addition of vegetation, these sands became “lithified” dunes.

Unfortunately, these are the same natural formations that are being mined for construction sand or bulldozed into subdivision lots. These types of activities, often done without proper permits or even archaeological monitoring, do not reflect our community values.

The companies who mine and export the dune sand within the 1,000-acre Maui Lani Project District have already significantly modified the Pu’u One dunes. This has resulted in a great loss of our sense of place and the disinterment and/or destruction of hundreds of precontact burial sites. This is deeply disturbing to the many Maui ohana with long ancestral ties to the lands of Waikapu and Wailuku.

A&B’s proposed Waiale North development adjoining Maui Lani allowed sand mining. The Waiale Town Master Plan also proposed to destroy most of the intact natural dune features within their 300-acre site. They have characterized the existing dunes of 20-to-30 feet height with culturally significant views of Mauna Kahalawai as “fragments.” Waiale sand mining has already disturbed around 100 traditional Hawaiian burials. Only five were previously known during surveying. The rest were “inadvertently” discovered by heavy machinery mining sand.

Federal historic preservation law defines a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) as a “property that is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places based on its associations with the cultural practices, traditions, beliefs, lifeways, arts, crafts, or social institutions of a living community. TCPs are rooted in a traditional community’s history and are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community.”

The Pu’u One dunes are recognized by multiple archeological reports as a known traditional burial complex. They should be protected as a Traditional Cultural Property instead of being destroyed dune by dune and subdivided lot by lot. They must be protected as a whole.

The time has come to preserve, celebrate and protect our Central Maui Pu’u One as a Traditional Cultural Property so that it will be here for generations to come. The recent legal action taken by cultural practitioners and the proposed Sand Mining Moratorium before the County Council are good first steps.

* Adriane Raff Corwin is the directing coordinator of Sierra Club of Hawai’i’s Maui Group.

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