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Pesticides and fertilizers to be reduced and managed

Council passes bill to decrease chemicals used on county property

Skaters gather at the Pukalani Skate Park in October. Concerned about impacts to the public and the environment, the Maui County Council passed a bill on Tuesday would reduce and manage the pesticides and fertilizers used on county property. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A bill that would reduce and manage pesticides and fertilizers used on county property, including parks used for youth sports, was approved on second and final reading Tuesday by the Maui County Council.

The council voted 8-0, with Council Member Tasha Kama excused, to approve the bill that would determine the categories of pesticide and fertilizers allowed or prohibited for use on county property.

“This shows that we are very responsible stewards for our keiki, kupuna and the kai,” said Council Member Shane Sinenci, who introduced the bill.

Chairwoman Alice Lee pointed out that the county and the Department of Parks and Recreation have already been taking steps to reduce pesticides and fertilizers when it replaced its Bermuda grass at the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course years ago with seashore paspalum grass, which does well near the ocean.

“It was a lot of money, a lot of work, (but) as a result, very little herbicides are used,” said Lee, who is also an avid golfer.

A soccer field at Central Maui Regional Park is shown in November. A new bill passed by the council will regulate pesticides and fertilizers used at county facilities. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

But she added that it will take a little more time to work it out so that no herbicides are used in the future at the course.

While the ordinance will take effect one year after its approval for most county properties, the law will take effect in three years for the Waiehu golf course and in two years for the War Memorial Stadium Complex and Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Baseball Stadium, according to the bill.

In a previous council committee meeting, the county’s parks department said it is in support of working toward eliminating hazardous substances and using organic alternatives on golf courses, fields and public parks. Beach parks are not treated with chemicals. Officials said that only about 10 percent of the 3,000 acres managed by the department is currently sprayed, mainly the high-intensity playing fields.

Agencies may apply for a waiver from the new law if needed prior to the use of a prohibited pesticide or fertilizer. Information needed for the waiver will include planned use, purpose of the request, location, costs, environmental conditions and other details.

The law would not apply to property managed by the state or private owners, county agricultural parks or county property used for agricultural purposes.

Testifiers in committee and at the full council meeting Tuesday expressed concerns over the impacts of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to the environment, including marine life. Others worried about youth playing and participating in sports at the parks.

“It’s about the parks. This is about the kids. We got to make it safe,” West Maui youth coach Junya Nakoa said Tuesday.

Nakoa, who has experience with pesticides at a former job, said he knows when they are sprayed on playing fields, so he doesn’t allow his youth teams to do pushups or situps that day.

Soccer coach Thomas Creagh noted how he went to Keopuolani Park recently for soccer practice and noticed a sign on a bottom field saying “do not enter herbicides were sprayed.”

For him, that is a “clear indication” that what has been sprayed there is “not the healthiest thing for kids.”

He said he supports the bill and noted that other municipalities across the nation have also instituted similar measures for their parks.

In other council matters Tuesday, members approved a bill on first reading that would exempt owners of portions of real property designated as kuleana land or Kuleana Act government grant land from paying real property taxes, delinquent taxes and penalties under certain conditions.

In 1850, the Kuleana Act granted fee simple title to commoners and allowed them to make claims for the land that they occupied and improved.

According to a council committee report, a representative from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs said the legislation is necessary, as individuals with parcels classified as kuleana land have been able to seek tax relief from the county. Meanwhile, those who purchased government lands in accordance with the Kuleana Act, but whose parcels are not classified as such, have been subjected to increased property taxes.

The lack of tax relief has caused some lineal descendants to lose title to their ancestral lands, the official said.

The bill will allow for retroactive application of the exemption for assessment years 2010 though 2031, according to council documents.

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

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