Council approves Phase I expansion of Kula ag park

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

When Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. closed its doors and shut down sugar operations for good at the end of 2016, Maui was in dire need of a plan to keep thousands of acres of land in agricultural use and revive a fading farming industry.

With this in mind, on Nov. 2 the Maui County Council approved the acquisition of 262 acres of land owned by Alexander & Baldwin in an area bordering Omaopio and Pulehu roads Upcountry to expand the Kula Agricultural Park. The acquisition will allow more small- and medium-sized farmers to lease county land to raise livestock and grow more diverse types of crops including fruit and fruit trees, herbs and spices, ornamental flowers and foliage.

The purchase of the 262 acres is just the first step, or Phase I, of the county’s plan to expand the park. Phase II intends to add on another 610 acres. The full prospective build-out of the park will see over 1,300 acres of land dedicated solely to agriculture.

The existing Kula Agricultural Park supports 26 farmers and consists of 31 farm lots ranging from 10 to 30 acres, for a total of 462 acres. The park is home to a variety of vegetables, turf grass, landscape nursery products, flowers, bananas and dryland taro. The land is fully leased by the county, primarily to small farmers, for $100 per acre per month.

Phase I will provide opportunities for both conventional and organic farmers. Organic farming will be designated in an area carved out by natural buffer zones in accordance with the parcel’s topography and infrastructure, totaling approximately 97.1 acres.

Water amounting to a million gallons per day is available for the Phase I expansion area via a water agreement with A&B. This will not affect the water availability for the current park, which already draws an adequate 1.5 million gallons of water per day.

The 262 acres will be purchased for its appraised value of $5.9 million through a combination of state and county funding. The county appropriated monies in the fiscal year 2018 budget to acquire the land, which must be encumbered no later than Dec. 31 of this year.

The state appropriated $5 million, contingent upon county approval of the acquisition. Those monies will expire at the end of fiscal year 2019. The county and A&B agreed to a date no later than Dec. 31 of this year for the purchase.

Overall, the expansion of the park is a big step for Maui’s farmers and agriculture industry. The growth will ensure that agricultural land is kept in perpetuity for its intended purpose and represents a renewed hope for an industry that is more important than ever to sustain.

The continuation of farming on Maui is vital for food production and food sustainability and helps to lessen our dependency on shipping items that can be grown, instead of flown, into our county.

* Yuki Lei Sugimura is chairwoman of the council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee. She holds the council seat for the Upcountry 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.

COMMENTS