WEST MAUI - The proposed Puamana to Pali shoreline park is a puzzle with missing pieces; its vision has been blurred over the years by multiple studies, defining, redefining and delay.
The concept has been further fractured by the various project names it has been designated, including beach park, parkway and road realignment.
Mayor Alan Arakawa has been championing the concept of a coastal parkway since the mid-1990s, and he now refers to it as the "Pali to Puamana Coastline Park," a softer, more acceptable approach.
The goal is to establish an eight-mile open space preserve along State Highway 30 to protect the shoreline environment.
Mike Foley was the director of the Maui County Planning Department during the first Arakawa Administration (2002-06). He is currently president of the Makawao Community Association, board member of Maui Tomorrow and member of Hawaiian Island Land Trust's Maui Advisory Council.
He is a longtime advocate of the concept.
"This project is an important vision to promote, because it is an extraordinary opportunity to create a continuous, eight-mile-long open space at the entrance to West Maui," Foley said.
"The Pali to Puamana Parkway," he continued, "will protect ocean access for fishing, surfing, picnicking, snorkeling and diving while providing an eight-mile-long bike path and amazing ocean views."
The first piece of the parkway was the purchase of 100 acres between Ukumehame and Olowalu by the county in 2004 for $4 million.
"The 100 acres is the entire coastline area," the chief executive of the county told the Lahaina News in a recent interview.
"The county bought the land in my last administration in anticipation also that when the state moved the roadway further inland, we would have a corridor that they could utilize," the mayor explained.
The state has not acted on that option. Instead, it continues to shore up the coastline with the installation of costly seawalls and revetments that appear to fail.
"All the repairs that they are doing now along the coastline - again, this would be a more temporary type of cure, because long-term the idea was to move the road inland," the mayor advised.
"The idea is to move the highway inland and let nature take its course along the shoreline. In the community plan and in the general rules, what we've said is we don't want to harden the coastline because of the erosion factor; it creates an abnormal batter that effects the coastline," he added.
The image of a contiguous coastline park was practically abandoned before the ink dried on the drawing board.
"Before that (the purchase of the Ukumehame land)," Mayor Arakawa explained, "we actually had an option to purchase Olowalu, but we (the county) messed that up. The 880 aces in Olowalu that we could have purchased for eight million dollars - that opportunity was lost.
"But the developers of the Olowalu project," the mayor noted, "have been working with us to try to create, at least, a large portion of a contiguous coastline park."
The third piece of the puzzle, however, is intact.
"The last part we're trying to acquire now is the Puamana to the Solid Waste Transfer Station section; the last segment we need to create the Pali to Puamana Coastline Park," Mayor Arakawa said.
The County Council's Budget and Finance Committee, chaired by Mike White (Makawao, Haiku, Paia), is considering the administration's proposal to purchase the 184 acres from West Maui Land Inc. for $13 million.
Approval of the purchase was deferred, White announced in press release issued following a Sept. 15, 2013, committee meeting.
While he supports the purchase of open space for future generations, he questioned the methodology of the appraisal.
"An appraisal that was presented to the Budget and Finance Committee," he noted, "was fundamentally flawed, and its assumptions were dictated by the administration, instead of using industry best practices.
"It is vital that when spending taxpayer funds, we are doing so in a diligent and accountable manner. It would be highly irresponsible to move forward on a $13 million land purchase without appropriate due diligence."
West Side Councilwoman Elle Cochran agrees with White on this matter.
According to Cochran, the committee deferred on Oct. 15 as well, pending receipt of a revised proposal.
"There is no question that this land will be a great benefit for the community. I would love to see this land owned and preserved in perpetuity as open space for the residents of Maui County; however, I do not feel that the asking price has a fair assessed value, due to information that has been shared and discussed during open session," Cochran said.
"It is our job as public servants to protect taxpayer dollars and spend them in a conscientious manner. I want to ensure fiscal responsibility here, and it is my hope that a new appraisal will be objective, evenhanded and more reasonable than the deal currently on the table."
Cochran offered a suggestion: "It would be amiable for the developer to consider donating it to the county for the purpose it is intended.
"It would be a show of good faith for the many returns obtained by this developer over the years, due to community endorsement," she said.
In the meantime, the county has a Dec. 31, 2013, deadline to accept the offer; otherwise, the developer walks away from the table.
(Next week, in an interview with Mike White, more details about the proposal.)