Updated: December 7, 2023
Members of the Hawaiʻi House Finance Committee, led by Chair Kyle T. Yamashita, visited Maui to view firsthand several projects and programs supported by the State Legislature, and tour state-owned properties in Lahaina and around the island.
Committee members met with stakeholders to learn about community needs and identify key priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
The committee will continue to conduct site visits across the state to gain insight into the status of ongoing projects and assess the needs of neighbor island communities, according to a press release.
Here are some highlights of the Maui site visits Oct. 25-27:
Soil & Water Conservation – Upcountry Maui
The committee visited a fire-damaged agricultural lot in Kula to discuss soil and water conservation district management, particularly in wildfire mitigation.
Michael Constantinides, assistant director of technology at the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, highlighted extreme weather, drought, invasive species and land management as factors contributing to the area’s fire vulnerability. Officials discussed a plan to air-drop seeds to prevent soil erosion.
In the upcoming legislative session, discussions on soil and water conservation district management are expected to continue.
Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary School
Following the August 8 Lahaina wildfire, Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary School has transformed into a hybrid campus, requiring quick adjustments to its new circumstances. On Oct. 18, approximately 300 students from Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena returned to campus alongside more than 200 students from King Kamehameha III Elementary, which was destroyed in the fire. The King Kamehameha students will attend Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena until a West Maui temporary school is completed in Pulelehua.
The committee met with the principals of both campuses who shared insights about the current situation and identified pressing needs for the students.
Representatives also learned more about the school’s Hawaiian Language Immersion Program or Kaiapuni School, one of 22 such non-charter immersion programs that were implemented in the Department of Education beginning in 1987. The department has requested additional funding for the immersion program in the coming session.
Hālau Keʻalaokamaile Cultural Resource Center
Kumu Hula Keali‘i Reichel established Hālau Ke‘alaokamaile to perpetuate the Hawaiian tradition, culture and heritage through its arts, beliefs, dance, language and agriculture.
For years, he harbored a vision of creating a dedicated space where students could engage in hula practice and performances while being immersed in Native Hawaiian culture and actively participating in community outreach.
In 2022, Halau Ke’alaokamaile secured $881,600 through Grant-In-Aid funding allocated by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. With the support of private donations, and federal and state grants, the Halau embarked on the exciting journey of building their cultural center which is located on a 4-acre parcel on Piʻiholo Rd in Makawao. The center is currently under construction.
Waiʻānapanapa State Park
The committee went to Waiʻānapanapa State Park. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this popular park, situated near the end of the renowned Hana Highway in East Maui, had seen overcrowding and a surplus of commercial tours. This significantly impacted the neighboring rural community and affected the overall visitor experience.
To address these issues, a new reservation system was put into effect in 2021. During the site visit, park officials outlined their ongoing objectives that include the sustainable management of the park, and a balance between maintaining an improved experience while respecting the local community’s needs.
Lahaina Wildfire Disaster Zone
The committee conducted site visits to evaluate the ongoing recovery efforts in the aftermath of the Lahaina fire. Their first stop was to the site of King Kamehameha III Elementary to assess the damage and gain insight into ongoing recovery efforts. Representatives received an update that cultural advisors have been actively involved, working alongside archaeologists and forensics experts to identify and preserve culturally significant aspects of this historical property.
At Lahaina Harbor, members received an update from the US Coast Guard on the recovery progress, encompassing search and rescue operations, FEMA assignments and debris removal. Efforts are underway to work closely with vessel owners for access, maintenance and environmental and historical preservation, including the preservation of significant cultural artifacts. The timeline for these operations is ongoing.
House representatives also visited the site of Front Street Apartments, a 142-unit Hawaiʻi Housing Finance & Development Corporation project built in 2001. Throughout the 2024 legislative session, there will be anticipated discussions regarding the need for affordable housing for residents, especially in the wake of the wildfires.
Conversations at Mala Wharf focused on potential legislation for the upcoming session, with an emphasis on addressing commercial matters while protecting the concerns of local residents. The Department of Boating and Ocean Recreation provided an update on the funds received in previous years from the State Legislature and the status of projects, which include upgrading bathroom facilities, improving lighting and enhancing the facility’s striping.
Lastly, an update on the West Maui temporary school was provided during a briefing by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Plans are underway for the transitional campus to be located at Pulelehua near Kapalua Airport.