WAILUKU - The Maui County Arborist Committee voted Thursday to recommend that four mature monkeypod trees on South Kihei Road be designated as "exceptional trees."
The designation within the Maui County Code would give the trees - which have been targeted for removal by the county - a strong measure of protection. The Maui County Council would need to make the designation by ordinance.
Council Member Bob Carroll, who attended the committee's meeting in the Department of Parks and Recreation's conference room at the War Memorial Complex, said the "exceptional tree" designation would mean anyone wanting to disturb such a tree would "have to jump through hoops."
"It does provide more protection," he said.
Carroll said the committee would forward its recommendation to the council and the administration of Mayor Alan Arakawa.
Last week, the county announced it planned to remove the monkeypod trees fronting the Maui Schooner Resort because their roots were pushing up sidewalk in several places along South Kihei Road and they need to be removed to make repairs to the sidewalk.
A pedestrian walks by the Maui Schooner Resort on South Kihei Road on Thursday afternoon. Four mature monkeypod trees fronting the resort have been targeted for removal by the county, but the Maui County Arborist Committee voted to recommend that the trees be designated “exceptional,” a move that would help protect them.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
A section of sidewalk fronting the Maui Schooner Resort in Kihei shows damage from roots growing underneath it.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Officials said the trees would be removed later this month and would be replaced by another type of tree that would be planted farther away from the sidewalk. On Thursday, members of the Arborist Committee heard pleas to preserve the trees and the shade they provide residents and visitors as well as expert testimony from registered and certified arborist Ernest Rezents.
Rezents told committee members that three of the four trees could be saved if the repaired sidewalk were elevated above the tree roots, reduced in width and moved closer to the curb of the road. He also recommended carefully cutting away of the most troublesome roots.
Committee member Terry Nutt said cutting the trees' roots would almost ensure their removal.
But Rezents disagreed, saying that monkeypod trees are "very tolerant of abuse" and likely able to withstand a careful pruning of some roots. He said the growth of the trees could be managed by restricting the amount of irrigation water they receive.
County arborist David Sakoda has said that removing the roots alone was not an option because that would make the trees unstable.
Nutt said that if the trees were being targeted for removal by the county for fear of potential lawsuits, "zero liability . . . that's almost unattainable."
Committee member Harlan Hughes said the county should preserve the trees.
"Is this the precedent we want to set?" he asked. "I don't think so. This not what Maui is all about. It's not New York City."
Committee member Jeannie Pezzoli said it would be a "huge loss" to simply chop down the trees.
A half dozen members of the public also testified in favor of keeping the trees intact.
Rezents said the largest of the four trees is near a fire hydrant and probably would need to be removed unless the hydrant could be moved.
Kihei resident Marilyn Colvin submitted a formal request to the committee to designate the trees as being exceptional.
"I say 'exceptional' not as four, single, standalone trees but as a stand of four magnificent trees standing between a hot, dirty and bumpy road in Kihei and a mass of gaudy, concrete, high-rise condominiums," she testified. "I believe that these tough but graceful trees provide exceptional beauty to an area that, without them, would be an eyesore."
Council Member Don Couch, who holds the council's South Maui residency seat, has scheduled a public meeting to discuss the potential removal of the trees from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in the Kihei Charter School's 6th-grade building in the Lipoa Center at 41 E. Lipoa St.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.