Keeping Maui County safe is the council’s top priority

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

The County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee recommended passage of a bill to fund the removal of eucalyptus trees on the county-owned right of way on Piiholo Road in Upcountry this past week.

The committee reviewed two options from the Department of Public Works. The first proposed funding to cut, haul and dispose of 60 trees within the county right of way at a cost of $342,420.

A second option proposed cutting the same 60 trees, plus 300 trees on Piiholo Ranch property, determined to pose similar risks of falling onto Piiholo Road, at a cost of $448,818. Under the second option, the county would be authorized to leave all 360 of the cut trees on the ranch’s property, without having to incur the considerable cost of hauling them away.

Taking into account cost-related concerns, the committee voted to recommend the first option.

However, following the meeting, Piiholo Ranch representatives verbally agreed to move forward with the second option through a cost-sharing partnership with the county.

Hazardous weather conditions, including strong wind, caused many of the large trees to collapse onto the road, preventing residents from traveling to and from their homes. One resident shared his account of barely missing a tree falling onto his car.

Experts from the Maui Invasive Species Committee point to the eucalyptus tortoise beetle and the eucalyptus snout weevil as a major cause of eucalyptus tree death.

As a result, Department of Public Works personnel have responded over eight times to address fallen trees, many times on weekends or evenings, which has become very costly.

This action is critical and the funding measure is slated to be heard by the council for the first of two readings on Feb 16.

The Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee also recommended approval of a performance audit of the Department of Liquor Control last week.

Over the past year, the liquor department has faced public scrutiny over staffing, liquor sales, implementation of the law and liquor licensing.

In an effort to better understand the root cause of the outstanding issues and how the department may be improved, an independent auditor would be contracted to review current operations and practices.

The end goal of any audit is to ensure the best service is provided to residents in the most efficient and effective manner. A final decision on the matter will be made at the Feb. 16 council meeting.

At the same meeting, the policy committee also heard a presentation from the Maui Emergency Management Agency in light of the false nuclear missile attack warning on Jan. 13.

According to emergency management officials, because their office is not staffed 24 hours a day, official communications on the event were being sent to the Police Department instead of emergency management officials. Communication statewide must be improved for future incidents.

Council members were also concerned about shelter locations. Currently, emergency management does not broadcast shelter locations until an event occurs. This is to ensure appropriate staff is in place to assist the public at the correct location and shelters are appropriate for each incident.

The agency is working on specific plans to better prepare for all eventualities as part of their annual emergency plan update. They anticipate that it will be completed in the next few months.

However, it was made clear that earthquakes, floods, high winds and tsunamis are the county’s most common emergencies, and we must be prepared for any event.

The council hopes to continue the dialogue with emergency management officials to ensure that keeping our community informed and safe is our No. 1 priority.

* Mike White is chair of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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