County Council moves forward bill to protect inland sand

WAILUKU — A bill that would put a six-month moratorium on the mining of Central Maui inland sand passed its first reading Friday at a Maui County Council meeting.

The bill will be back for a second-and-final reading at the council’s Jan. 5 meeting, giving council members time to review 13 properties seeking to be removed from the moratorium list.

“To think of how much has already been taken, I think we’re not late, but I think this is that opportunity to preserve what is left,” said Council Member Elle Cochran, who introduced the bill. “The longer we delay the longer the landowners are going to have to delay their projects, too.”

The bill would put a hold on sand-mining and allow for a 2006 sand inventory study to be updated. It would also provide time to establish regulations to prevent the possible disturbance of Native Hawaiian burials and protect limited natural resources.

On Nov. 17 and Dec. 1, the council deferred the bill’s first reading. Residents again showed up Friday to urge the council to pass the bill.

“We’ve lost a culture. We’ve been separated from it for a long time,” said Johanna Kamaunu, who represents Wailuku on the Maui/Lanai Burial Council. “This moratorium is maybe one step in that direction to solving it. But it doesn’t solve the problem. No matter what area of land you clear here without vetting it first for remains and with family members, you always stand in that position of injuring them, injuring their memories and just wiping us out.”

Before the first reading Friday, council members approved a Cochran amendment that defines “Central Maui inland sand” as inland sand classified “Qdo” by U.S. Geological Survey. “Qdo” refers to older dune deposits that could go back as far as 2.5 million years.

Several owners covering 13 different properties are seeking exemption from the bill. Some say their properties do not contain the type of sand targeted by the bill, while others say their properties have already undergone archaeological surveys. The owners seeking removal from the moratorium list are Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Valley Isle Fellowship Inc., Waiale Road 201 LLC, Waiale 905 Partners LLC, Gentry Maui Development LLC, Maui Lani 100 LLC, Maui Lani Partners, Maui Lani Village Center Inc. and Waiko Industrial Investment LLC.

In total, the bill identifies 59 large property owners that may have all or part of their properties affected by the moratorium.

The ordinance defines sand-mining as extraction and removal of sand from a lot. It would not apply to activities required to comply with county, state or federal regulations; activities related to land management for agriculture, landscaping and related uses; and work that received a permit prior to the effective date of the ordinance.

On Friday, the council also referred the issue of removing more than 400 dead eucalyptus trees along Piiholo Road to its Budget and Finance Committee.

On Nov. 29, then acting Mayor Keith Regan issued an emergency proclamation calling for the removal of the trees in county-owned rights of way. The Mayor’s Office proposed a bill adding a $1 million emergency appropriation to the current fiscal year budget.

Residents said the drive along Piiholo Road has become increasingly dangerous. They urged the council to take action quickly.

Makawao resident Stephanie Metzler said she was driving through the rain one morning when she spotted a downed tree in the road, hit her brakes and fishtailed.

“Please take these trees down,” Metzler said. “There are hundreds, and they’re big, and they’re scary, and they need to go.”

The Maui Invasive Species Committee has its baseyard and offices up Piiholo Road. Former manager Teya Penniman said employees have watched the trees become diseased and die over the years.

“Every day we wonder, ‘Is it better to drive fast so that you get through that area more quickly? Or slowly, so you have more opportunity to adjust to a falling tree or branch?’ “ Penniman said. “You should not have to be making those decisions just to get to work or to home.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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