Maui’s most controversial permit was approved in only 29 minutes
It’s a matter of basic human decency to show respect toward each other’s ancestral remains. The Central Maui sand dunes are the resting place for thousands of iwi kupuna (ancestral bones), but landowner Maui Lani Partners has been allowed to illegally mine
hundred of thousands of tons of Central Maui sand and destroy countless burials in its Phase 9 site. Malama Kakanilua, a local group of cultural descendents and their supporters, is fighting to stop this desecration once and for all.
As a first step, County Council member Elle Cochran introduced legislation to establish a moratorium against all sand mining in Central Maui in spring 2017. It finally became law on Jan. 5 but included an exemption clause: Anyone with land in the moratorium area would be excused from it if they held a valid grading permit before the moratorium passed.
MLP’s Phase 9 permit was set to expire in late 2017, so it would not be able to get a new permit once the moratorium became law. But instead, in late November 2017, the Public Works Department quietly extended Maui Lani’s Phase 9 permit. The time stamp in the email exchange showed only 29 minutes passed between Public Works receiving MLP’s application for permit extension and the department’s approval of it. This made sure MLP’s Phase 9 site is exempt from the moratorium.
Public Works cannot claim that it was unaware of the controversy. In April 2017, Gina Mangieri of KHON2 did an expose on the scheme between development company MLP and cement company HC&D (formally Ameron) to mine thousands of tons of sand from MLP’s Phase 9 site, export it on barges and create cement for construction projects like Oahu’s rail. According to KHON2, MLP and HC&D’s joint owner, the Mills Group, made $30 million off Maui sand mining in 2016 alone. All of this was done with a simple grubbing and grading permit (No. G2014/0090); the Mills Group found loopholes in the law that allowed them to mine away the small amount of inland sand Maui has left.
Mayor Alan Arakawa called for a moratorium on sand mining but took no action, so Malama Kakanilua sent him a letter in May 2017 that explained why MLP’s Phase 9 permit should be revoked, including the fact that MLP provided incorrect information in its original application by checking “No” after the application question, “Are there known burials, cemeteries, or other historic sites on the property?” The land in question is a well-documented pre-contact burial ground, and this type of omission should warrant revocation and reevaluation.
David Goode, director of Public Works, signaled that he was aware of the controversy by writing a letter to the State Historic Preservation Division in July 2017, relating community testimony stating MLP did not have required archaeological monitors on hand during its work.
So, despite the fact that the original permit application included false information, new burials were found at the site, the council was working on a moratorium, Maui-Lana’i Burial Council was weighing a motion to preserve the burials in place, Malama Kakanilua filed a lawsuit against MLP, the judge issued a preliminary injunction in that suit to stop the mining, and the Planning Department sent a warning letter that MLP initially ignored, Public Works extended MLP’s Phase 9 permit in 29 minutes — without consulting any other pertinent agency or department.
Malama Kakanilua and Sierra Club Maui are calling on the county to revoke MLP’s permit extension as well as the grading permit granted to Waiko Industrials (also granted right before the moratorium for another highly sensitive burial area). We want a complete audit of the permitting process so that we: 1) get to the bottom of how the MLP permit was approved in the first place, and 2) ensure this blind approval process stops once and for all.
County government needs to make sure the mining stops. So far, Public Works has taken no action, so Cochran has introduced a new bill to remove the exemption clause from the moratorium law, which may be discussed at the Feb. 2 council meeting. We urge the public to stand up for decency and demand these burials be protected.
* Adriane Raff Corwin is the directing coordinator of Sierra Club of Hawai’i’s Maui Group.