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Joint effort formed to clean up Ukumehame site

Government and private landowner work to remove cars, homeless camp

County and state officials, a private landowner and the members of the public are working on plans to clean up three properties in Ukumehame that have been littered with abandoned vehicles, trash and debris. The county already has hauled away about 25 vehicles from the area. Officials believe a private towing company has been dumping vehicles at Ukumehame. Police are investigating. -- Maui County photo

County and state officials, representatives of a private landowner and members of the public worked last week on coordinating the removal of vehicles, rubbish and illegal encampments on public and private property on the mauka side of Honoapiilani Highway in Ukumehame.

Maui County Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons, who is spearheading the effort, went to visit the site near Mile Marker 13.5 along Honoapiilani Highway on Monday. Like many parcels of land, a portion of the county’s 100 acres at Ukumehame has fallen victim to illegal camping, dumping, abandonment of vehicles and other illicit activities, he said.

“Often these transgressions happen in areas not easily visible, tucked back in the kiawe, haole koa and scrub foliage and trees,” Parsons said. “Vehicles may be dumped in the wee hours of the night and subsequently stripped of potentially valuable parts.”

In the past two months, the county has removed about 25 vehicles from the area, with 15 coming from county land, said Tamara Farnsworth, the county Environmental Protection and Sustainability Division manager, who handles abandoned vehicles.

There are 20 to 30 more vehicles still left on state land and a few remaining on the county property. On Monday, government officials began coordinating the removal, which could take a month to six weeks to complete, Farnsworth said.

Both Farnsworth and county Communications Director Rod Antone said a private towing company is alleged to have brought a number of the abandoned vehicles to the site.

The company has been identified by several witnesses, and Maui police are investigating, they said.

Mayor Alan Arakawa wants the county to take a strong stance against illegal dumpers, noting that the taxpayers end up footing the bill.

“It’s a burden on the community,” he said Tuesday.

Arakawa is suggesting substantial fines of $1,000 or $2,000 for those caught dumping vehicles and maybe a $10,000 penalty for commercial entities found dumping vehicles.

Under County Code pertaining to litter control, which would include illegal dumping of vehicles, Farnsworth said penalties range from $100 to $1,000.

Antone said the administration will look into increasing penalties and preventing illegal dumping. If the County Council takes up the issue, the administration is willing to work with it.

Arakawa called the dumping of vehicles an “epidemic.” He said he sees abandoned vehicles all over the island, including along the road he drives to his farm in Omaopio.

“These irresponsible people are creating a burden for the rest of the community by abandoning their responsibilities,” the mayor said. “We need to do something about it.”

Any abandoned vehicle that is towed away by the county is the responsibility of the registered owners, who are charged towing, storage and disposal costs, Farnsworth said.

But in the Ukumehame situation, “We are taking into account the allegations of illegal dumping by a professional tow company and are determining the best way to assign responsibility with the vehicles in question,” she said.

Maui resident Greg Hoxsie has been pushing the county to do more to clean up the area since he came upon the rubbish, camps and vehicles in late spring.

“The illegal dumping has resulted in a serious health, safety and environmental disaster in this area on county land in Ukumehame. Had the area been managed properly in the first place and the access points sealed off, this problem would not exist,” he said.

Still, he thanked the Arakawa administration and singled out Chief of Staff Lynn Araki-Regan. He said she was the one who really got the momentum going after touring the area with him in the spring. She got a dumpster placed in the area, which homeless people and volunteers filled with rubbish and debris. “This is a great example of Maui County, the state and community volunteers coming together with the common goal of keeping our natural areas, improved or unimproved, clean and safe for residents and visitors,” Hoxie said.

Shawnalison Wright-Kanae, property manager for Ukumehame LLC, the private landowner also affected by the dumping, said trash and illegal campers have been an issue in the area for years. She and the landowner have been making an effort to clean up the area.

Many of the vehicles being dumped came after large brush fires in 2016. Boulders that kept people out of the area were moved to allow first responders’ vehicles onto the county property but were not put back, Wright-Kanae said.

They since have been moved back into place to block access.

The private landowner also has provided two containers free of charge for the disposal of trash and debris on its property and on government land.

Wright-Kanae also supported Arakawa’s suggestion to start a nonprofit, which could help manage the area to prevent dumping and illegal camping.

The county first became aware of the problem in October, when contacted by the state, said Antone. Initially, county officials believed it was a homeless issue, so they sent Homeless Division officials, who made contact with two females and one male living on county property. They declined help, he said.

A handful of other homeless people lived on noncounty properties, he said.

While working with the homeless people, the division alerted other county officials about the illegal dumping problem, which got the ball rolling on the cleanup, Antone said.

Parsons said the county will seek a grubbing permit to allow front-end loaders to create access to numerous dump sites in the area. It also is likely that the county will seek a special management area exemption or minor permits as needed for maintenance on county property.

A charter amendment proposal on the general election ballot could help the county fund the cleanup measures, Parsons said.

On Friday, the County Council on second and final reading approved a resolution to place a charter amendment on the ballot to expand the uses of the Natural Resources, Cultural Resources, Scenic Views and Open Space Acquisition Fund to allow for money to be used for safety and security purposes.

The fund currently can be used only to purchase land.

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