Amala Place offers opportunity for renewal
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and the County of Maui have joined forces to restore Amala Place in Kahului. Management concerns, the need to replace DLNR’s Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary fence, and the need for emergency access to the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility are driving the imminent clean-up of publicly-owned lands there.
Clean-up will begin this coming week. To ensure public safety, the Amala gate to Kanaha Beach Park will be locked for four days. A public park detour will go through Koeheke/Ka’a Street while heavy equipment is in use to haul solid waste and derelict cars that line the road.
Ever since the CDC’s guidance discouraging relocation of unsheltered people expired on July 31, the County of Maui has been working with social workers and service providers to assist those living in the Amala Place encampment. To date, 25 individuals have moved into shelters and one has moved into permanent housing. Thirteen have moved out of the area while 12 have been offered shelter and services but remain undecided. Maui Police Department officers have served the remaining 14 individuals with notices to vacate.
Maui residents can be confident that compassion guides our actions. Shelter and services are available to everyone living in the camp. I don’t believe it is compassionate to enable people to continue living in dangerous, unsanitary conditions when safe, clean shelter and support services are available and within reach.
At the outset of the pandemic, the Hawaii National Guard joined our Department of Public Works and Department of Parks & Recreation to build 23 temporary “pallet shelters,” as emergency housing. These small shelters were placed in Waiale Park under the management of the good people at Family Life Center.
Since then, the pallet home program has helped more than 80 percent of its sheltered residents move into permanent housing. This is one of the highest placement rates in Hawaii and the people of Maui County should be proud of this.
Another reason for Maui pride is our Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. Designated as a state sanctuary in 1951 and a National Natural Landmark in 1971, this historically significant landmark is one of two royal fishponds built by King Kapi’iho’okalani of O’ahu during the 1700s. It has since become one of the state’s most important habitats for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds.
The 235-acre pond and surrounding wetlands are home to a variety of waterbirds including trio of endangered native birds: the ae’o (Hawaiian stilt), the ‘alae (Hawaiian coot) and the koloa (Hawaiian duck). Nene and other endemic animals also take refuge at the pond.
The DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife is preparing sanctuary improvements, including a complete replacement of the perimeter fence that offers the only protection between these rare birds and introduced predators. The existing fence needs urgent replacement because it was severely vandalized.
Just across the street is the County’s Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility. Trained personnel must have immediate access to the facility at all times to prevent an accidental sewage spill in case of a flood, tsunami or other natural disaster. Currently, tents, shanties, abandoned vehicles and mounds of rubbish hinder access, thereby putting the environment at risk.
Staff safety at both locations is also a concern. State and county employees have been threatened and harassed while trying to report to work. I’m sure we all agree that every worker deserves a safe and secure workplace.
With the rainy season soon approaching, now is the time to make this change. When the restoration of Amala Place is complete, our native wildlife will enjoy a safer habitat and Maui’s environmental health will be more secure. Local businesses will have a more inviting setting and Maui residents will again enjoy clear beach access in the area for recreation and fishing.
Change isn’t always easy, but it can replace difficult situations with something new and beneficial. The restoration of Amala Place will be an example of this.
* “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.