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Three projects get initial approvals for federal funds

The Halau of ‘Oiwi Art is shown in this rendering. Maui County has already budgeted $43 million for the project, and $11 million was moved successfully out of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee last week. Courtesy Maui County

Three Maui County proposed infrastructure projects are earmarked for federal funding for fiscal 2023 which will support Hawaiian culture and emergency response in the county.

Among the projects approved for Congressionally Directed Spending and Community Project Funding is the proposed Halau of ‘Oiwi Art Center planned for Wailuku town, which is one of the largest investments earmarked in all Hawaii counties, county administration has said.

The county has already budgeted $43 million for the project, and $11 million was moved successfully out of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee last week.

This project will “advance the cultural, social and historical impact of Native Hawaiian ‘oiwi art and practices,” Maui County Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said during the Maui County Council’s Infrastructure and Transportation Committee meeting Monday morning. 

The funding will support the development of the project plan, design and construction of a permanent place for hula and its arts. The project should take about three years to complete, Nishita said.

Nearly 400 people attended an open house for Halau of ‘Oiwi Art on the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Great Lawn on Saturday. Community members mingled with kumu hula and their students, along with project architects and Maui County officials regarding the planned Hawaiian cultural center for Wailuku town. County of Maui / Shane Tegarden photo

A final round of approvals will hopefully be made in September or October, said Crystal Ellerbe of Strategies 360 Inc., which provides federal funding consultations for the county.

Other earmarks include $1.4 million in federal funds to help renovate the former GTE Hawaiian Tel Building for the county’s Emergency Operations Center, which would improve preparedness, mitigation and response to “all types of hazard events,” Nishita said.

The $5-million project would provide about 16,000-square feet of renovated building area with high-tech security and communications systems. Construction is slated for completion by 2024. 

An additional $180,000 in federal funds for Maui Police Department’s project to expand radio communications in West Maui was also approved to “ensure continuous communications for police, fire and emergency management and other responding agencies to perform their essential life and property-saving efforts,” Nishita said. 

Due to limited resources and tight deadlines, the Congressionally Directed Spending and Community Project Funding requests were not extensively deliberated with the county council before submission and not all requests made it past the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Nishita added.

“We wanted to make sure that Maui County got requests in so that we could get an opportunity for funding and spend the time now to line up projects that we could all be united on for the next upcoming fiscal year,” Nishita said. 

Still, Council Chairwoman Alice Lee said during the meeting that “we didn’t get any requests for input at all from the administration.”

She acknowledged that there are time-sensitive issues, but noted that emergency council or community meetings can always be scheduled at the last minute to “meet these urgent deadlines because we were totally excluded from the process.”

“It’s always the same reasons: we’re excluded because there’s no time,” Lee said. “Well, let’s make time… . I’m not complaining about the approvals that we got, that are coming down from congressional monies and community funding monies, but in the future, we have two branches and you need to take advantage of getting the input from the council because, often times, the council represents more of the community than the administration.” 

Nishita explained how applications were somewhat “thrown in” at the last second during the previous fiscal year, leaving little time or coordination to get requests in for comment.

“We were able to secure our federal funding consultant to help us through this process in January of this year and then maybe about at the end of January, we had to really rush to get projects into them for consideration, including meeting with congressional members’ staff,” Nishita said. “Given the short time constraints, there was really no time to be able to have a lot of public discussion on, you know, what kind of project would be best to see Congressional Directed Spending for.”

Among the requests that were denied in the Senate includes $750,000 to purchase a new fire tanker for West Maui to replace the most highly used vehicle of the fleet, Nishita said. The current 12-year-old tanker is utilized island-wide.

Also denied was $1 million to mitigate Maui County’s axis deer problem. The funding would supply grants to local farmers and ranchers to help plan, construct and maintain axis deer fencing on their properties.

Additionally denied was a $500,000 request to provide Maui police with “better equipment” for less lethal methods and to respond to situations where deadly force would be authorized. The funding also would have gone toward training for high-intensity situations and de-escalation tactics, Nishita said.

Also denied was a $3 million request for Maui County’s Office of Economic Development and Department of Agriculture.

The funding would be for the ag markets program, which supports critical infrastructure needs to grow and provide locally grown food and products.

Looking ahead, Nishita said the council and mayor’s office can now spend time on future requests for the next fiscal year, as well as upcoming Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act opportunities. 

The committee will continue discussions on community project funding on Aug. 15, said Chairwoman Yuki Lei Sugimura on Monday.

“I’m just thrilled to hear the results that we got,” Sugimura said. “We’re grateful we have Senator (Brian) Schatz … For him to get the $11 million for the Halau ‘Oiwi Arts resource center is kind of huge.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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