Maui County finding ways to protect the environment

Our County

Maui County continues to be ahead of the curve in finding ways to protect the environment of our island home.

Last year, Maui County was the first county in the state to ban polystyrene foam containers, including those that commonly been used for plate lunches. The Big Island followed, and a similar ban took effect there on July 1.

The polystyrene containers have been replaced in our county with biodegradable alternatives that decompose instead of breaking down and polluting our land and ocean.

Maui County is making progress toward 100 percent clean energy. The state’s clean energy goals have called for a 30 percent renewable energy portfolio standard (wind, solar and biofuel, etc.) by 2020. But Maui Electric Co. surpassed that threshold of renewable energy use in the fourth quarter of 2017 with 34 percent, and in the first quarter of this year it was at 38.9 percent.

We are making strides toward implementing a program to purchase electric vehicles for Maui County’s fleet, and the county Department of Transportation is working toward purchasing electric buses for the next generation of Maui Bus vehicles.

At last week’s Climate Mayors Summit in Honolulu, I joined the mayors of 127 cities and 15 counties from 38 states in the Climate Mayors Electric Vehicles Purchasing Collaborative, committing collectively to purchasing more than 2,100 electric vehicles by the end of 2020.

The collaborative is an online portal that provides municipalities with a single, equal price for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure by aggregating the demand from the Climate Mayors group.

The goal of transitioning government vehicle fleets to electric is to lead by example and to help cut greenhouse gas emissions that warm our planet, while saving taxpayer dollars, improving health and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Another environmental initiative that Maui County has undertaken has been to reduce the use of the herbicide glyphosate, hopefully eliminating it by 2021.

So far, the County of Maui departments of Public Works and Parks and Recreation have reduced use of glyphosate herbicide products by about 90 percent in the past few years.

The Department of Public Works has explored and tested alternatives to the use of the herbicide for roadside vegetation management since 2013. So far, results have been mixed. When the department stopped spraying herbicide, the vegetation at critical locations and at blocked warning signs became very hazardous and dangerous to roadway users.

The department has worked to eliminate exposure risks to pedestrians and has eliminated spraying in or near areas with significant foot traffic, in drainage areas, in neighborhoods and near schools. In those areas where spraying must occur, applications are limited to areas around guardrails, fences, signs and at some intersections that have sight distance issues; once or twice a year, depending on how fast vegetation grows.

To reduce herbicide use, the Public Works Department has obtained new mowers countywide, and it has increased its weed-wacking along roadsides. Weed mats are being installed underneath some sections of guardrails.

The department will continue to pursue alternatives to herbicides, including additional workforce, new products, weed matting and asphalt hardening.

The Department of Parks and Recreation also has been working to reduce its use of glyphosate products, increasing weed-wacking, improving turf maintenance practices and aerating grass in fields.

Beginning with the new fiscal year on July 1, the department will not purchase the herbicide. Leftover product will be used in limited areas, primarily fence lines.

Both departments follow labeling recommendations for application coverage, train employees for the safe use of products and employ all measures to ensure the safety of employees and members of the public.

The county will continue to work on organic alternatives to herbicides. Such alternatives include using compost, molasses, humic acid and aeration to create a naturally strong soil system. Another alternative is looking at changing the type of grass used in parks fields and landscaping. Implementing a herbicide-free policy will require additional funding for labor and material.

The health and safety of our community are an utmost concern. So far this year, we’ve had too many senseless traffic fatalities. Don’t drink and drive. Use safety belts, and arrive alive.

Aloha!

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.