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Maui council approves $6.2M to protect 257 acres above Māʻalaea

Maui County is contributing $6.2 million so the state can eventually acquire 257 acres of Pohakea Watershed Lands, also known as Ma’alaea Mauka. PC: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council
A view looking up at the Pohakea Watershed, showing severe erosion. Eroded sediment gets carried by stormwater into the ocean, where it undermines ocean water quality and harms coral reefs. PC: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

Maui County Council today approved a pair of bills for $6.2 million that will allow the public to acquire and protect about 257 acres in Māʻalaea, an area riddled with frequent fires and high erosion rates. 

Pohakea Watershed Lands, also known as Māʻalaea Mauka, is private property valued at about $8.2 million. Located along Honoapiʻilani Highway — the main access that connects West Maui to Central Maui — the land is mauka of Maui Ocean Center, Māʻalaea Shops and Māʻalaea Harbor.  

With the 9-0 vote to green light bills 77 and 78 on second and final reading, Maui County Council started a multiagency process to ensure that Pohakea Watershed Lands are not privately developed. 

The council’s budget changes approved today will grant $6.2 million to Trust for Public Lands to acquire the land and its water well infrastructure. Another $1 million is slated to come from the state.

After purchase, the trust will transfer Pohakea Watershed Lands to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife for stewardship and management.  

Environmental groups and Maui residents have supported the acquisition, saying it will address watershed protection, fire prevention and mitigation, and erosion control.  

“By taking care of the lands in the watershed, we are taking care of the ocean water quality and the coral reefs in Māʻalaea Bay,” Anne Rillero, Maui Nui Marine Resource Council spokeswoman, testified today. 

State Rep. Angus McKelvey, whose district covers Māʻalaea, lauded the effort. 

“The legislature allocated funds to the state Legacy Land Conservation Program for critical projects just like this, to protect and preserve our precious and dwindling open space areas,” he testified. 

The County of Maui administration supports the bills, testified Josiah Nishita, county deputy managing director. 

The state said the project is important for public safety.  

“The parcel proposed for purchase is one of several that pose important challenges for resource managers and affected communities due to the frequency of fires and high rates of erosion that affect nearshore waters,” J. Scott Fretz, DLNR DOFAW Maui branch manager, said in written testimony. 

He added that acquiring the land will improve the state’s ability to mitigate fire and erosion and will facilitate improved management of watershed resources.  

Although the trust and the landowner have not signed a purchase and sale agreement, the trust has been negotiating the conservation acquisition with the landowner for more than a year and both parties have signed a confidential letter of intent, according to Trust for Public Lands written testimony. 

“TPL believes the total of public funds raised — $6.2 million from the County and $1 million from the state — will be sufficient to effect a purchase,” the trust added. 

The state’s proposed $1 million contribution is scheduled to be heard at the next Board of Land and Natural Resources meeting on Friday. 

Original source: https://mauinow.com/2022/05/06/maui-council-approves-6-2m-to-protect-257-acres-above-ma%ca%bbalaea/

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