The Maui County Cultural Resources Commission deferred action Thursday on an advisory review of a proposal to remove a 50-year-old monkeypod tree at 545 Front St. in Lahaina.
County Arborist David Sakoda showed commission members pictures of a partially uplifted sidewalk and root damage at the tree's base. He said the county Department of Public Works wants to repair the sidewalk, which does not comply with the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To ensure pedestrian safety, the county erected about six weeks ago orange barriers under the tree to prevent people from walking on the damaged sidewalk.
Repairing the sidewalk would require further trimming of the tree's roots, which would add to its instability because the tree's roots already had been pruned and compromised, probably when a fence was installed on the private property next to the public sidewalk, Sakoda said.
The "tree would become unstable," he said, if more root trimming were done.
Sakoda recommended removing the tree. He said the Maui County Code does not require the county to seek advice from the commission, although the tree is in Lahaina's historic district. But the county did bring the matter before the commission to be as transparent as possible, he said.
In response to a question from commission Chairman Raymond Hutaff about replacing the invasive monkeypod with a another, less-aggressive tree, Sakoda said another tree could be planted and provide shade in the same location, but it would be a small- to medium-sized tree.
Sakoda's recommendation to remove the monkeypod drew objections from four testifiers.
"The tree is beautiful. It provides a lot of shade," said Lahaina resident JoAnn Carroll.
Without the tree, the area would "be unsightly," she said, adding that Maui has lost too many trees already.
Carroll suggested jutting out the sidewalk toward the roadway, which would take away one to two parking spaces, but she said the tradeoff would be worthwhile to save the tree.
Kihei resident Marilyn Colvin agreed that other options should be explored.
"You know the benefits of trees as well as I, and I say we need to stop using the ax as a way to solve tree issues," she said.
Kula resident Barbara Long also advocated preserving the tree.
"Times have been hard for Maui's monkeypods lately, on county property and on private sites," she said. "Unfortunately, our county's monitoring of potential problems - such as those affecting this tree - have not included either problem mitigation before hazardous conditions became apparent or appropriate consideration of alternatives, which might have spared beautiful, shade-producing mature trees from the chain saw. In the historic district or not, our trees deserve better!"
Colvin said she could recall at least 10 recent county actions "aimed at destroying Maui's tree population when other solutions could be and have been used successfully."
Among those threatened trees, she mentioned four monkeypods on South Kihei Road that the county planned to cut down, but they were saved, at least for now, because of a public uproar.
She said the situation reminded her of the Dr. Seuss' 1971 children's story "The Lorax," the character who sought to protect the environment and the trees from the greedy Once-ler.
Colvin paraphrased the author, also known as Theodor Geisel, by saying: "Yes, I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please. Now thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground, there's not enough left to go around."
Hutaff said monkeypod trees are one of Maui's most "forgotten trees." Monkeypods were used by plantations to provide shade for oxen used to haul cane and other heavy objects, he said.
Monkeypods represent a period of "our history, whether we like it or not," he said.
He urged county officials to consider alternatives to save the tree, including the idea of jutting the sidewalk toward the road and having the sidewalk go around the tree.
Commission members agreed to defer the matter to get more information and to have the issue brought before the county Arborist Committee.
In other action, the commission recommended denial of a request by Valley Isle ATM to install an automated teller machine in the facade of the historic Lahaina Store at 744 Front St.
Commissioners said the state-of-the-art machine would be out of character with the historic district and recommended putting it inside the building.
Brian Rose of Valley Isle ATM said the machine would be inset into the exterior wall of the building and would not obstruct pedestrian traffic.
The best location for the ATM would be at the front of the building because it would then get the most foot traffic, Rose said.
In another matter, the commission recommended approval of transferring ownership of a 20.7-acre cultural preserve at Palauea, in Wailea, to the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The preserve was supposed to be under the owner-ship of the University of
Hawaii Maui College, but the UH Board of Regents and the UH Foundation decided not to accept ownership of the property.
OHA will own the property and oversee it as a cultural preserve park.
And, the commission approved a request from Maria Lanakila Church to install photovoltaic systems on the rectory, early learning center, kindergarten and classroom roofs of the church and Sacred Hearts School.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.