Maalaea residents and environmentalists are urging Maui County Council members to provide funding of up to $9.5 million for a sewage treatment facility in Maalaea.
Council Member Kelly King, who sits in the South Maui residence seat,’s budget proposal would fund a new regional sewage reclamation system for Maalaea.
Currently, the community of Maalaea relies on 24 obsolete injection wells, King said in a press release last week.
Maalaea Small Craft Harbor and Maalaea Beach are currently on the state’s list of degraded water bodies, which means that an applicable water quality standard is not being met, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
“Our island has suffered a major ecological loss”, Peter Cannon, director of the Maalaea Village Association and chairman of the board of directors of the Hono Kai Resort condominium in Maalaea, said during a public hearing Thursday evening. “Maalaea Bay is an economic engine for all of Maui. It’s not just about the community of Maalaea.
Cannon said when Maalaea was rezoned from residential to hotel/resort in the 1970 community plan, families like his in the area had to sell their homes due to high property taxes or build condominiums.
Condominium owners were then tasked with building their own sewage treatment plant with 1970s technology using injection wells, Cannon said.
“The county created this problem in the first palace”, he told council members. “I think Maui County should solve this problem for all citizens of Maui.”
For the past few years, Cannon and other Maalaea residents have been looking for solutions to outdated sewage systems. Certain condominiums have also been cited by the state Department of Health in the past for various deficiencies and/or violations of state sanitation system rules.
Lucienne de Naie of Sierra Club Maui said funding for the sewage treatment plant “Finally, finally, finally, make things right in Maalaea.”
She said no one should expect a group of condominium owners to solve sewage problems; this is something that should have been worked on during the construction of the condos, but nothing was done.
De Naie said that with a properly functioning sewage treatment system, water could be reclaimed for better use.
“The water can be used directly on the aina, so it will not be injected into the ocean”, she says. “And the amazing variety (of species of) Maalaea Bay that was written about in so many studies of the 1970s and 1980s may slowly return.”
Cannon and de Naie were two of about 40 witnesses at the council’s public hearing on the fiscal year 2023 budget proposal on Thursday evening. The council is currently reviewing and amending Mayor Michael Victorino’s $1.045 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The budget includes an operating budget of $794 million and a capital improvement budget of $251 million.
By law, the council has until June 10 to pass its own version of the budget, or the mayor’s budget takes effect.
Other proposals that received supporting testimonials Thursday evening included funding for Maui Economic Opportunity’s Head Start program and a summer program, as well as funding for wetland organizations, watershed programs and a safe area or safe sleeping space for the homeless.
There were also about a dozen elementary through high school students who requested support for the Maui Economic Development Board, specifically its STEMworks program.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program includes the training of teachers and students in “industry standard” software design and engineering practices using a hands-on curriculum, regional lectures, and workshops, according to its website.
It is also working with the community to build a STEM workforce education pipeline in the state.
“STEMworks is a very fun and educational after-school program that can develop a child’s skills in construction and engineering.” said Ekela Jean Yatsushiro, a second-grade student at Pukalani Elementary School, who added that she was lucky to participate in the STEMworks after-school program.
The program includes students using software to create 3D models. His favorite was making a toy car.
Ekela Jean said that “all this work allowed me to deepen what I learned in class” and presented him with new ideas.
“Even during the pandemic, they found ways to keep us connected to our learning,” she says. “Please continue to fund MEDB and their work with us.”
Sierra Kosaka, a fourth-grade student at Pukalani Elementary School who also participates in the STEM program, said it taught her a lot both educationally and socially.
One of those things is coding, she said “is useful if I want to be a computer engineer one day.”
Socially, the program taught him teamwork, group collaboration and also learned from his mistakes.
“STEM taught me what I did wrong, fix it and try again.”
Sierra, who testified virtually, was also joined by her younger sister, Lindsey, who is a sophomore at Pukalani Elementary and also participates in the STEMworks program.
In Victorino’s proposed budget, he hopes to give $900,000 to the MEDB as well as $225,000 to his STEMworks AFTERschool program.
The council’s budget, finance and economic development committee will meet again Monday at 9 a.m. to consider the budget. For more information, see mauicounty.us/2023-budget/.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]