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Mayor delivers his final State of the County

Arakawa shows he has no shortage of goals in his last year

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa delivers his State of the County address Tuesday evening in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Theater. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa announced a proposal Tuesday to lease Old Maui High School to a Kahului nonprofit, with the goal of creating programs to house and educate “the homeless, former inmates and the disadvantaged.”

Finding a new use for the Hamakuapoko property — for years a controversial topic — is among the many goals that Arakawa hopes to accomplish before his term ends this year. On Tuesday evening, the mayor delivered his final State of the County address — absent the protesters that preceded his speech last year — in which he highlighted past accomplishments and outlined goals, such as easing the county’s reliance on injection wells.

“Today, I am confident in saying that the State of Maui County is more than just good,” Arakawa said. “The State of the County, as it stands right now, is stable, secure, resilient and strong.”

The mayor pointed to past projects that include paving, rebuilding or slurry-sealing about 40 percent of the county’s roads; buying shoreline property to protect public access to beaches; increasing active park space from under 190 acres to more than 600; and completing the 56-unit Kulamalu Affordable Homes project Upcountry.

About halfway through his speech, Arakawa announced his proposal for Old Maui High. The mayor plans to send the County Council a proposal within the next few weeks to lease the 23-acre property to the nonprofit Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development. The vision, Project Aloha, would provide housing and education for homeless people.

Speaking to a near capacity McCoy Theater, Alan Arakawa outlined the accomplishments of his seven years in office as his term nears completion at the end of the year.

“Our intent is not to simply move people from one place to the next, but to move them to an area of lesser impact to the rest of the community,” Arakawa said. “This area will provide a secure and safe site that is not currently used by members of our community.”

In April, TEACH Development, which was planning to turn Old Maui High School into a center for agriculture, technology and education, withdrew from the project after strong opposition from the community, which has suggested a Hawaiian charter school among other options for the site.

Council Chairman Mike White, whose residency district includes Paia, Makawao and Haiku, declined to comment about the plans following the speech.

Council Member Don Guzman, however, said he was “a little apprehensive” of the plan.

“I’m just real hesitant to bring people who need social services to a remote area,” said Guzman, who will be relinquishing his Kahului residency seat to run for mayor. “The social services would also have to move in that area. Economically, will it work? . . . You’re moving them out of the community while in fact we should be working with them within our community.”

As for other plans to alleviate housing and homelessness issues, Arakawa said he planned to re-propose adding $9 million a year to the budget to purchase land for housing projects.

Islandwide, seven housing projects totaling more than 1,000 units are currently under construction in West, South, Central and Upcountry, Arakawa said. Forty-six percent of those will be affordable housing. There also are 14 pending projects totaling more than 3,200 housing units, of which 61 percent will be affordable housing.

Using more recycled water countywide is another goal for the near future. Every year, the county distributes 1.3 billion gallons of recycled wastewater across all three islands for reuse, or 3.5 million gallons reused daily. However, that’s less than 30 percent of the wastewater treated at county facilities daily.

“In order to use more water, we must get aggressive and find more alternate uses,” Arakawa said.

Future plans include another million-gallon storage tank in Kihei and a forest reserve/plant nursery park in South Maui by the new police station, which “should use all of the water currently going into the Kihei injection wells.” Other plans include high-level reservoirs that can pump and store recycled water in Lahaina — which the mayor believes can happen within a year — and a renewable power generation project near Kahului Airport that will use 500 acres of biocrop as a feed source and utilize up to 4 million gallons of recycled water daily.

“This should essentially eliminate the daily use of the Kahului injection wells within a year,” Arakawa said. “The project will hopefully be functional this year.”

After the speech, White and Guzman agreed that the county is financially strong, though Guzman said one thing that’s been an issue over Arakawa’s past two terms is collaboration between the council and the mayor. Going forward, he said, the council and mayor’s office need to be better at working together to prioritize projects.

Arakawa is in the process of serving two consecutive terms since 2011, as well as a term from 2003 to 2006. He’s indicated his intention to run for the council’s Kahului residency seat, currently held by Guzman.

Arakawa’s final State of the County speech followed a number of recent controversies, including a dispute over Water Supply Director Dave Taylor, who sued the county and the mayor after Arakawa placed him on administrative leave and kept him there even after the council voted to reinstate him. On Feb. 13, a council committee voted against funding Arakawa’s legal fees.

The day after, the Campaign Spending Commission fined Arakawa $1,000 for exceeding donation limits to multiple charities. The commission also ordered him to repay more than $8,300 to his campaign.

It’s also been a year since the mayor made his infamous comments about there being “no such thing as sacred rocks,” following community backlash over the removal and crushing of boulders from Iao Valley after major flooding. His comments drew dozens of protesters to his State of County speech last year.

On Tuesday, Arakawa also announced plans to:

• Finish the Iao Water Treatment Facility, which is almost complete and will be able to process an extra 1.5 million gallons a day.

• Purchase 8,764 acres of Wailuku Water Co.’s infrastructure and water resources, a proposal that is currently before the council. The asking price is $9.5 million.

• Partner with the state and federal government to acquire 3,276 acres of former Von Tempsky property to create Kamehamenui Forest, a conservation park.

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

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