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Community members offer ideas for state lands in W. Maui

This map shows 244 acres, including Honolua Bay and Lipoa Point, that the state owns on the northwest coast of Maui. The state is in the process of developing a scoping plan for the area. -- The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

LAHAINA — Charging nonresidents a user fee, restoring native habitats and installing more portable toilets were some ideas floated at a community open house Wednesday night on the future of state lands in the Honolua Bay and Lipoa Point areas.

The ideas are being gathered by the state as it works on a management plan for around 244 acres designated as state conservation and agricultural districts on Maui’s northwestern coast. The area is famous for surfing and snorkeling as well as its scenic beauty and cultural resources.

In 2014, the state acquired the lands makai of a nearly 4-mile stretch of Honoapiilani Highway from Maui Land & Pineapple Co. for nearly $20 million. It was the culmination of efforts by the community, guided by the Save Honolua Coalition as well as state lawmakers, to prevent development of the agricultural lands surrounding Honolua Bay.

The state Legislature appropriated $500,000 in capital improvement funds in 2016: $375,000 is for planning and $125,000 for construction of safety and security improvements, including signage, tree hazard removal and security barriers along cliff areas, according to handout given at the meeting at the West Maui Senior Center.

“It’s been a long road to get to this point,” said Tamara Paltin, president of the Save Honolua Coalition. “I’m definitely very grateful that it was able to happen.”

She has been involved with protecting the area for around a decade, and said that she hoped a management plan would be created to address the basic needs for the area.

Although the community open house was the first large public outreach, meetings of the state and community stakeholders have been ongoing, and Paltin said there has been progress. She said the state will begin assisting with some maintenance of the area.

Beginning next year, the state will pay for portable toilets at Honolua Bay. Up to now, grants enabled the coalition to pay around $8,000 a year for three portable toilets. She said that the plan is to have four portable toilets, one handicapped accessible, when the state takes over. Because of the state procurement process, Paltin and Maui state lawmakers said, costs will rise to around $20,000.

Paltin said Save Honolua is still looking for donations to cover a $1,000 per month maintenance contract. This includes emptying rubbish bins and removing large items people frequently dump along the road.

West Maui lawmakers Sen. Roz. Baker and Rep. Angus McKelvey are looking into setting up a state special fund to be used only for state lands around Honolua Bay and Lipoa Point.

Both lawmakers said that one way to raise money could be to charge nonresidents a fee.

“We’ve got to create a revenue stream for the management of the bay while this community process is ongoing,” said McKelvey.

He said that on a recent outing in the area he surveyed tourists who were open to such a way to protect the area’s resources.

McKelvey applauded that the state is already working with stakeholders such as the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust and Aha Moku groups.

Russell Kumabe, planning and development branch chief of the state Parks Division, said that the open house is the “feel good” part of the process where everyone contributes ideas and suggestions. The challenging part will be when a direction will be set for the management process, he said.

Kumabe’s division has taken the lead on the management process, although there has not been a determination that the area will be a state park. He added that the state is not “reinventing the wheel,” and is incorporating studies that nonprofits and community groups have already done in the area.

Stakeholder focus group meetings have already identified some of the biggest issues in the area: pollution, the need for visitor education/outreach and overuse of the area, according to graphs posted at the meeting.

Priority improvement needs include increased access controls and user group limitations, cultural/historical resource restoration and natural area/native habitat restoration.

John Summers of Planning Consultants Hawaii, which is assisting the state on the planning process, said initial work on the plans began in late 2016 with the scoping plan hopefully complete sometime next year. He said the management plan could be done in 2019. An environmental assessment will also be prepared, with its completion maybe in 2020. He said community outreach and meetings will continue through the process.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.