Cesspools, water, Upcountry quality of life top issues

Candidates discuss their priorities

Candidates for the state House District 12 race, Tiare Lawrence and incumbent Kyle Yamashita, participated in a primary election forum. They are both Democrats, running for the district that includes Upcountry, Spreckelsville and parts of Kahului. The winner of their race in the primary election Aug. 11 will be headed to the state Capitol. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

KULA — A state law outlawing cesspools by 2050, water issues and Upcountry’s quality of life were identified as critical issues by the two candidates running for the12th District House seat, which includes Upcountry, Spreckelsville and parts of Kahului.

Democratic incumbent Kyle Yamashita, who has spent 14 years at the state Capitol, is seeking to keep his seat in a race against challenger and fellow Democrat Tiare Lawrence. The winner of the Aug. 11 primary election will win the seat.

Yamashita and Lawrence addressed a political forum Wednesday night at the Kula Community Center, sponsored and moderated by the Kula Community Association. Candidates in the mayor’s race as well as other county and state races also participated.

Yamashita pointed to the state law outlawing cesspools by 2050 as a critical issue for Upcountry. Earlier this year, state health officials deemed 7,400 cesspools in Upcountry potential threats to drinking water.

The law would require residents to replace cesspools with a septic tank or hook up to a sewer system. Removing each cesspool could cost $20,000, and Upcountry residents at meetings earlier this year were upset over the requirement.

Yamashita said that the Legislature has ordered the issue be reassessed by a third party with economic impacts being a consideration. For example, the impact of the requirement on senior citizens with limited incomes would be part of the process.

He also addressed water availability issues. He said the Legislature appropriated $3.5 million for a reservoir, a partnership with Haleakala Ranch, to get additional water and in the future, the state will be looking at identifying ravines that could be dammed.

For Lawrence, “I think a critical issue to our community Upcountry is protecting and maintaining our quality of life. Upcountry Maui is positioned to be the answer to our food security problems here in Hawaii.”

While the island can provide fresh and nutritious foods, she said there is concern about Central Maui, which she called “up for grabs” for development, and people are worried about urban sprawl.

The community organizer would like to see diversified sustainable agriculture that can provide economic opportunities. The state Department of Agriculture, which could help with these goals, is severely underfunded, Lawrence said, with only 0.03 percent of the state budget heading to that department.

She also believes that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which cares for watersheds and the aina, is underfunded. The department receives less than 1 percent of the state budget.

“How are we going to be able to address those critical needs when we are not adequately funding it?” she asked.

She proposed looking for more revenue sources but does not support raising the general excise tax because it is a regressive tax that will affect low-income families. Instead, she suggested raising taxes on high income people, out-of-state investors, rental cars and sugary drinks, which are unhealthy, she said.

Yamashita said the Legislature looked at how to adequately fund the Department of Agriculture, which is the “border control” on invasive species. The Legislature set up a tax designed to give the department funding to do that patrolling, but the department has not spent the funds for that purpose, he said.

So the Legislature, instead, provided funds to the University of Hawaii to look at ports of entry for invasive species, the harbors and airports, and issues regarding conducting inspections.

This is Lawrence’s second time challenging Yamashita. In 2016, Yamashita held on to his seat, taking 2,763 votes, or 50.6 percent, in the Democratic primary to Lawrence’s 2,411 votes, or 44.2 percent

In another contest, the forum hosted former Maui County Council Member Mike Molina and Trinette Furtado, who are running for the vacated Makawao-Haiku-Paia council residency seat. Council Chairman Mike White is retiring from the post and the seat.

A third candidate in the race, Adam Borowiec, was not present.

Both candidates were asked about their preferred route for the Paia bypass and where the funding for the road should come from.

Molina said he would let the people decide where that route should be and would go along with what the majority of the community wants. “I have really no particular favorite,” he said, noting that everyone will not agree on one single route.

He encouraged everyone to get involved with the process to find a viable route so that state funding does not lapse.

Molina, who served on the council in the same residency seat from 2001 to 2011, recalled that in the early 1990s a plan was in place for the bypass, but there were concerns by merchants that the road would take away business in town. Something needed to be done so the council supported a mini-bypass, which is now in place.

Molina, who is an executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, admitted it was not the full solution, “but it did help.” Now is the time to get a full route selected.

Furtado, who serves as one of Council Member Alika Atay’s executive assistants, suggested looking at old government roads as alternative routes, which can be used with “little renovation and work.”

She, like Molina, believes the funding can come from the state.

Furtado referenced past meetings that the state Department of Transportation had with the community regarding the bypass. She said many residents voiced their concerns, only to have “those concerns to fall on deaf ears.” The state needs to re-evaluate its plans.

“I think the state owes the community that much,” she said.

Small-business owner Rick Nava and county Ocean Safety Officer Tamara Paltin, who are vying for the West Maui residency seat vacated by Elle Cochran, also appeared at the event. The third candidate in the race, Kanamu Balinbin, was not present. 

As for what they want to accomplish if elected, Nava said everyone talks about workforce housing and affordable rentals. Nava, who previously ran unsuccessfully for the same seat in 2014, hopes the county can work better with home builders and help expedite the process of construction.

As a business owner, he has a difficult time finding workers because no one can find an affordable place to live in West Maui.

For traffic, Nava said he feels the Lahaina bypass or Highway 3000 is “working very well right now.” But he pointed to other road issues, noting the brush fire in Ukumehame on Wednesday  that was slowing traffic.

Paltin said, if elected, she would look at the management of the county. When she ran for mayor in 2014, one of her key platform issues was county management.

Currently, the managing director doesn’t have direct control over all the departments, she said. When administrations change, department heads change, leaving voids and a learning curve for administrators. County issues, such as affordable housing, water and wastewater, are difficult to tackle without consistency.

“It’s so hard to address those issues without continuation of management,” she said.

Other candidates participating in Wednesday’s forum were Stacy Crivello, incumbent, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and Cora Caparida-Schnackenberg, candidates for the council Molokai residency seat; Debra Kaiwi and Natalie “Tasha” Kama, candidates for the council Kahului residency seat; and state Sen. J. Kalani English and Michael Tengan, seeking the District 7 state Senate seat.

Arakawa, who is running for the Kahului council residency seat, and Gayla Ann Haliniak-Lloyd, a candidate in the state Senate District 7 race, did not appear at the forum.

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