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Waiale land acquisition affirms commitment to shared history, future

OUR COUNTY

On Oct. 5, the Maui County Council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to approve acquisition of approximately 500 acres of land known as Waiale South and Waiale North for $10.5 million. I want to thank County Council

Vice Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez for her foresight and collaboration on this proposed historic acquisition for the people of Maui County. The full council is expected to take action on the acquisition in coming weeks.

This land acquisition also includes 55 acres adjacent to the Waiale North parcel to be dedicated to the county to satisfy a condition placed on the development of the Maui Business Park Phase II. In addition, 23 acres of undeveloped land in Kahului, located in back of Target and Lowe’s, will be donated to the county for residential housing.

Back in 2019, we considered Waiale South and Waiale North parcels as potential development sites for affordable rental units and workforce housing. During our due diligence phase, we learned that the history of the Waiale lands went back nearly 250 years to the time of Maui’s ruling chiefs. Lineal descendants told about a pivotal battle that happened there and na iwi kupuna (ancestral remains) of warriors that are at rest in the sand dunes.

Janet Six, principal archaeologist for the County of Maui, completed her archaeological survey and confirmed evidence of both ancestral remains and cultural sites on the property. We considered her findings and concluded that these parcels should not be developed at all. Instead, the land should be restored to its natural state and preserved as a cultural site. Since then we’ve been working with members of the nonprofit organization, Malama Kakani-lua, and others in the community, to create a conceptual plan for an educational cultural preserve at Waiale.

Those who are new to Hawaii may not fully understand the reverence for na iwi kupuna in the islands, but imagine the outcry if a developer proposed building condominiums on the field where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. The concept of sacred land transcends both location and culture.

The Polynesian worldview of an interconnected, uninterrupted past, present and future offers an additional dimension. In many respects, protecting na iwi kupuna fulfills an obligation of the living to honor the ancestors and guard the future of descendants yet to be born. This generational continuity ties the Hawaiian people to these lands forever. With this land acquisition, the County of Maui will set a new precedent for prioritizing cultural values over ordinary land use.

I regret the past destruction of historic and cultural treasures throughout Maui County and all of Hawaii. Much of this damage was due to ignorance, but some injuries are so deep they cannot be easily forgotten. I believe this land acquisition can help to advance the healing process between the Hawaiian people and the people of Hawaii.

Clare Apana of Malama Kakanilua summed it up best in her recent testimony to the BFED Committee: “There are many things that we need. We definitely need affordable housing, but we also need spirit and heart. This land represents just that — the spirit and heart of Maui.”

I want to be very clear this land acquisition is not a matter of choosing between building new homes or preserving a cultural site. We continue to pursue residential housing for our working families on more appropriate parcels. We are actively seeking out opportunities to provide workforce housing and affordable rentals through public-private partnerships.

My administration continues to evaluate land acquisitions for housing, parks, open space and preservation throughout Maui County, specifically in South Maui, West Maui, Paia and on Molokai. The acquisition of Waiale South and Waiale North is just the beginning.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column alternates with “Council’s 3 Minutes” every other weekend.

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