Wastewater therapy plant proposal attracts early public help | Information, Sports activities, Jobs

Maalaea residents and environmentalists are urging Maui County Council members to provide funds up to $9.5 million for a wastewater treatment facility for Maalaea.

The budget proposal by Council Member Kelly King, who holds the South Maui residency seat, would fund a new Maalaea Regional Wastewater Reclamation System.

Currently the Maalaea community relies on 24 outdated injection wells, King said in a news release last week.

Maalaea Small Boat Harbor and Maalaea Beach are currently on the state’s list of impaired bodies of water, meaning that an applicable water quality standard is not being attained, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our island has suffered a major ecological loss,” Peter Cannon, a director for the Maalaea Village Association and board president of Hono Kai Resort condominium in Maalaea, said during a public hearing on Thursday night. “Maalaea Bay is an economic engine for all of Maui. This isn’t just about the Maalaea community.”

Cannon said that when Maalaea’s zoning was changed from residential to hotel/resort in the 1970 community plan, families like his in the area either had to sell their homes because of the high property taxes or build condominiums.

The condominium owners were then tasked with building their own wastewater treatment plant with 1970s technology using injection wells, Cannon said.

“The county created this problem in the first palace,” he told council members. “I feel the County of Maui should fix this problem for all the citizens of Maui.”

For the past several years, Cannon and other Maalaea residents have been seeking remedies for the outdated wastewater systems. Some condominiums have also been cited by the state Department of Health in the past for various deficiencies and/or violations of state wastewater system rules.

Lucienne de Naie of Sierra Club Maui said funding for the wastewater treatment plant will “finally, finally, finally, set things right at Maalaea.”

She said no one should expect a group of condominium owners to solve the wastewater problems; it is something that should have been worked on when the condos were built, but nothing was done.

De Naie said that with a proper functioning wastewater treatment system, the water could be reappropriated for better use.

“The water can be used right there on the aina, so it won’t be injected into the ocean,” she said. “And the amazing variety (of species at) Maalaea Bay that has been written in so many studies from the 1970s and 1980s can slowly return.”

Cannon and de Naie were two of about 40 testifiers at the council’s public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget Thursday night. The council is currently reviewing and amending Mayor Michael Victorino’s $1,045 billion budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The budget includes a $794 million operating budget and a capital improvement budget of $251 million.

By law, the council has until June 10 to adopt its own version of the budget, otherwise the mayor’s budget takes effect.

Other proposals received that testimony in support Thursday night included funding for Maui Economic Opportunity’s Head Start program and a summer program, as well as funding for wetlands organizations, watershed programs and a safe zone or safe sleeping space for houseless people.

There were also around 10 students from elementary to high school who asked for support for the Maui Economic Development Board, especially its STEMworks program.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The program includes training teachers and students in “industry standard” software and engineering design practices using hands-on curriculum, regional conferences and workshops, according to its website.

It also works with the community to build a STEM education-to-workforce pipeline in the state.

“STEMworks is a very fun and educational after-school program that can develop a child’s skills in the areas of construction and engineering,” said Ekela Jean Yatsushiro, a second-grader at Pukalani Elementary School, who added that she is fortunate to be in the STEMworks after-school program.

The program includes students using software to create 3D models. Her favorite was making a toy car.

Ekela Jean said that “all of this work has helped to extend what I learned in the classroom” and introduced her to new ideas.

“Even through the pandemic, they found ways to keep us connected to our learning,” she said. “Please continue to fund MEDB and their work with us.”

Sierra Kosaka, a fourth-grader at Pukalani Elementary who is also in the STEM program, said that it has taught her many things both educationally and socially.

One of those things is coding, which she said “is useful if I want to be a computer engineer someday.”

Socially the program has taught her teamwork, group collaboration and also learning from her mistakes.

“STEM has taught me what I did wrong, fix it and try again.”

Sierra, who tested virtually, was also joined by her younger sister, Lindsey, who is a second grader at Pukalani Elementary and is also in the STEMworks program.

In Victorino’s proposed budget, he hopes to grant $900,000 to MEDB along with $225,000 to its STEMworks AFTERschool program.

The council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee will meet again at 9 am Monday to review the budget. For more information, see mauicounty.us/2023-budget/.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected].

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