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Scientists committed to addressing runoff issue at Honokahua Bay

By Staff | Sep 10, 2015

Bill Rathfon took this photo at D.T. Fleming Beach Park on Jan. 3, 2015. It rained heavily overnight.

WEST MAUI – Muddy waters continue to pollute Honokahua Bay and D.T. Fleming Beach Park, with the latest episode (prior to deadline) photo-documented on Thursday, Sept. 3.

With a Stop Work Order on construction of the luxury 51-lot Mahana Estates subdivision recently lifted by the county Department of Public Works in July, marine resource advocates continue to monitor the ongoing runoff from the development, concerned there is no abatement in sight.

It’s a multi-pronged, complicated issue, and environmentalists are frustrated. Their strategy to work with the authorities and the developer toward a solution has been stonewalled thus far in this case, but they are resolute in their efforts to implement a fix.

The county responded to questions posed by Lahaina News about the reasons for the release of the Stop Work Order.

Rod Antone, communications director for the Mayor Alan Arakawa administration, noted, “The county lifted the Stop Work Order after seven months of careful monitoring and review; and, most importantly, getting the developer to change their plans. The project was redesigned in critical areas in order to reduce sediment-laden storm water from leaving the project site.”

Unfortunately, the change-in-plans did not meet with success, and brown water events persist; however, Public Works Director David Goode has an explanation.

“As relates to the August events, there may still have been some leftover soil in the stream from the project that caused some of the brown water event, but we note that many streams on the West Side with direct access to the ocean (those without desilting basins) also experienced brown water, so it is impossible to pinpoint one project as the sole source of sediment,” he observed.

Marine biologists Dr. Mark Deakos (The Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research) and Robin Newbold (chair of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council) were asked to submit a mitigation proposal in response to a request from the Development Services Administration, Department of Public Works, to address repeated discharges into Honokahua Bay from the construction of the Mahana Estates subdivision.

The analysis cites the vital need for resolution: “It is critical to point out that land-based sediment is the number one threat to our coral reefs. When sediment reaches the marine environment, the suspended solids block essential light needed for corals to survive, and settled sediment eliminates any hard surfaces that new coral polyps need to settle and grow. There is no way to safely remove the sediment without damaging the reef further. With each new wave event, the sediment is re-suspended, causing more coral death. This is why the very first priority to protecting the health of our reefs is to take every measure possible to ensure that no land-based sediments reach our marine environment.”

Specifically, Deakos explained, “the proposal suggested a series of workshops on effective Best Management Practices (BMPs), proven to prevent sediment discharge, given to developers and regulators. From the monitoring side, the proposal included automated probes to measure turbidity and water chemistry upstream and downstream from the construction project to immediately identify a discharge breach, sediment tracking with dyes to know exactly where the sediment is coming from, and workshops on how to properly track sediment discharge for developers and government regulators.”

Unfortunately, the carefully laid out plan was not accepted prior to the release of the Stop Work Order, and the toxic events have resumed.

One scientist confided, “Based on what I have seen up there, we are going to have major problems for years to come, and some sections of that project should be condemned, because stabilization of that ridge is likely not possible.”

Another advocate asked point blank, “Is the county in violation of the Clean Water Act?”

Area residents Tamara Paltin and Dana Reed, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council members, are steadfast in their resolve to track the situation.

“We’re going to monitor for turbidity, nutrient levels, nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia, chlorophyll – those kinds of things. We’re particularly looking for pollutants that are coming off of the land, because a lot of that bleeds into the bays and causes the algae to grow like mad. When the algae grows like mad, it kills the coral,” as well, Reed said.

“As a result of the monitoring of the water quality at Honokahua for the past 18 months, it has inspired a lot of people all over Maui, who are very cognizant of the fact that there’s a lot of construction development slated island-wide – not just the West Side but all over Maui. They have observed the devastation here with a very small project, and now they’re asking ‘What can we do about this; how do we turn this into a lesson learned; how can we fix this problem; how can we keep that from happening elsewhere?'”

This isn’t the first time development has seriously affected the island marine ecosystem, Newbold reminded the Lahaina News, and West Maui is not alone.

“The Maalaea reef was destroyed by sediment during the building of Maui Ocean Center, and Honolua has been seriously impacted by development above that,” she said.

Further, Reed interjected, “When the state Department of Health Water Quality Report was released, Maui County had the greatest number of impaired waters of any of the islands in the state.”

Additionally, Hawaii has the highest incidence of staph infections of any state in the union.

In light of all these challenges, Newbold is astonishingly positive; and, as others take up the shield, her attitude is amazingly contagious.

An influential hui is in process of being formed. Five different organizations have joined forces to try to solve some of the water quality problems on Maui, including the Nature Conservancy, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative and University of Hawaii Water Resources Research Center.

“We are so grateful to have active members of the community – like Dana and Tamara – who are taking it upon themselves to become part of the solution,” Newbold said.

She is inclusive in her efforts to mitigate runoff.

“The Mahana Ridge disaster didn’t happen because of one bad apple, but because the system is broken. We look forward to working with the county,” Newbold continued, “to provide workshops and monitoring and improve Best Management Practices before more developments unwittingly damage the reefs that protect our island, feed our people, honor the Hawaiian culture and attract visitors who contribute to our economy.”