Climate change, open space and land management strategies primed for ballot

VIEWPOINT

The county charter establishes the structure and organization of the government of the County of Maui. It is a constitutional document, drafted in accordance with the will of the people, which defines the responsibilities of our local government.

Each election, the County Council has an opportunity to place on the ballot measures for the residents of the county to vote upon. This term, I have proposed placing three questions on the ballot to enhance our county’s ability to preserve and manage our natural environment. The amendments are currently pending before the council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee.

The first amendment proposes the creation of an office of climate change, sustainability and resiliency, akin to the office the voters of the City and County of Honolulu approved in 2016.

On May 29, the Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs Committee invited Joshua Stanbro, executive director and chief resilience officer of Honolulu’s office, to inform the committee about the role of energy in the context of climate change, sustainability, and resiliency.

Stanbro described climate change as “essentially an energy problem” and said carbon pollution is expressing itself in extreme weather catastrophes, which have tripled over the past 40 years. From 50 inches of rain on Kauai in 24 hours to reduced trade wind days and sea level rise statewide, Stanbro noted climate change is having a direct fiscal impact across government departments.

Stanbro said Honolulu’s office focuses on how to make communities more resilient for the long term and studies coastal management, freshwater policy, energy and affordability issues.

A similar office on Maui would foster statewide coordination on issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and measuring energy use and would help our county prepare long-term and post-disaster recovery plans. From a resilience standpoint, Stanbro said the absence of a pre-approved long-term recovery plan with the Federal Emergency Management Agency may limit a county’s ability to spend funds on improving infrastructure, rather than merely replacing it. He added that best practices suggest the onus for long-term recovery plans do not belong with a municipality’s emergency management agency. In theory, that agency should be able to pivot quickly in responding to disasters and not become entangled with the long-term recovery process.

According to Stanbro, last November Moody’s issued a memo saying the bond-rating agency may consider how aware cities are of climate change threats and vulnerabilities and factor that into their bond ratings. Having policies in place to help reduce the risk of climate change impacts may, therefore, also help to preserve Maui’s Aa1 rating with the agency.

My second charter amendment proposes to expand the uses of the Open Space, Natural Resources and Scenic Views Preservation Fund. The fund was established by charter amendment in 2002 to protect lands of significant conservation, recreation, ecological, historical, cultural and aesthetic value. Since its inception, the fund has been used to acquire lands including Waihee Dairy, Kaehu Bay, Kawaikapu Preserve and Hamakualoa.

While the fund has proven successful in terms of acquiring important lands, the charter currently prohibits use of the monies for any purpose other than acquisition. Over time it has become clear that once acquired, the county must ramp up its efforts to improve maintenance, safety and security of these lands, allowing the county to be a better steward.

Authorizing the fund to be used for these added purposes will assist the county in sustaining their capacity to provide a source of enrichment for future generations.

In this same spirit, I have proposed a third amendment to establish a department of land management. The county currently lacks a clear vision for long-term planning and maintenance of open space and other lands it acquires.

The department’s core functions would involve managing county lands and planning for their use, acquisition, protection, conservation and stewardship in a holistic way. The department would serve as a resource for county real property interests. This would complement the goals of the Open Space Fund and allow for more strategic assessment of the county’s land acquisition priorities.

The three proposals, while related, are not contingent upon one another. However, together I believe they can improve the county’s response to, and preservation of, our natural surroundings.

* Don Guzman holds the County Council seat for the Kahului residency area. He chairs the council’s Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs Committee. He is a candidate for Maui County mayor.

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