Maui Group Victory! 160 Acres Protected from Development in Wailea

October 26, 2016

Settlement Leads to Protection of Culturally and Environmentally Sensitive Land at Honua’ula

(Joint Press Release of Sierra Club, Maui Unite and Honua’ula Partners, LLC)


After more than three years of extensive negotiations, environmental and cultural groups, Sierra Club and Maui Unite, have entered into a settlement agreement with developer Honua’ula Partners, LLC and the County of Maui.  The settlement calls for the protection of over 160 acres of land containing ancient Hawaiian villages, boundary markers and site complexes, as well as rare and endangered plants and animals.  The settlement also includes protection of portions of the historic Kanaio-Kalama Road, specific access rights for cultural practitioners and the public, a reduction in the size of the originally proposed eighteen-hole golf course, a deer fence to protect endangered plants, and a conservation easement over the protected lands to be held by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.  Another key feature of the agreement is a 116-foot wide buffer along the boundary with Maui Meadows, a one-acre public park located adjacent to the buffer, as well as height limits on certain structures in areas adjacent to the Maui Meadows buffer.  Other parts of the agreement call for preserved areas to be turned over to a nonprofit group in the future.

The settlement agreement between the parties stems from a claim filed in 2012 that challenged the environmental impact statement that had been prepared by the developer and accepted by the county in conjunction with a proposed 1,400 unit development in Wailea on a 670-acre property near the south end of Pi’ilani Highway.

The project, which was initially referred to as “Wailea 670,” was approved by the Maui County Council in 2008 for single family and multi-family units, a range of commercial and other mixed uses, and a golf course.  The County Council placed a number of conditions on the development, for the protection of culturally and environmentally sensitive areas – including a “native plant preservation area” of not less than 18 acres and not more than 130 acres.

Through their claim, Sierra Club and Maui Unite contended among other things that the developer’s environmental impact statement had failed to adequately address the extent of the cultural and archaeological sites and features located on the property.  During the protracted settlement negotiations, the developer agreed to conduct further archaeological work.  The archaeologists have confirmed that hundreds of significant archaeological sites or features are located on the property, including ceremonial sites, stepping stone trails, living quarters and farming terraces.  Most of these sites are now confirmed for perpetual protection.

The claimants also contended in their lawsuit that the EIS failed to address the impacts associated with the 250 affordable housing units that were required to be constructed off-site, at the proposed Kaonoulu Light Industrial Subdivision located on the mauka side of Pi’ilani Highway in North Kihei, which has been the subject of another land use claim.  As a result of the settlement, the claimants have agreed that the developer may seek to obtain approval from the County Council to amend the original Wailea 670 project district ordinance to permit the affordable housing to be located either at the Kaonoulu site or at the Honua’ula site, or a combination of both sites.

Certain parts of the settlement agreement are contingent upon the developer obtaining additional approvals from the Maui Planning Commission and on the developer actually proceeding forward with the project as originally approved.


SC Comments on Maui Endangered Species Listing

RE: Updated information on locations of ‘awikiwiki (Canavalia pubescens) to consider as part of listing 38 Species on Molokai, Lanai, and Maui as Endangered, Final Rule; and designation of Critical Habitat.

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Wailea 670 Not Living Up to Conditions

When the Wailea 670 (Honua’ula) development was granted a zoning change from agricultural 30 conditions were imposed as Maui County law.  Sierra Club observes that not all these conditions are being met and has filed a lawsuit challenging the Wailea 670 EIS.

Additionally, the Sierra Club has submitted testimony to the County Council for the annual review of Wailea 670 (Honua’ula) condition compliance pointing out the conditions that the developer is violating.  This is the testimony:

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Wailea 670/Honua’ula EIS Accepted

Sierra Club Maui has submitted extensive comments on the Wailea 670 EIS through the whole process. Thanks to our comments, some parts of the EIS were improved.

The Maui PlanningCommission, as accepting authority, reviewed the Final EIS yesterday. Several areas of the EIS were clearly inadequate or evasive, however, the Planning Depart staff told the Commission it was complete, the Commissioners asked questions for a few hours, and then voted to accept it.

Below are Maui Group comments. They are consistent with our past comments that Chapter 343 actually requires examination of alternative actions to include “a rigorous exploration and objective evaluation of the environmental benefits and costs of the proposed action..

Our comments noted that the alternative of a 130 acre preserve and a development footprint of 540 acres did not receive factual analyses but was dismissed through unsupported assumptions. For example, the EIS stated that a “substantial number” of units would need to be relocated, but gave no specific number.

The analyses did not provide any discussion of infrastructure costs that could be avoided for roads, sewer hook ups, water lines, etc if the 130 acres did not have housing development and what tradeoff that would be to offset costs of providing the additional infrastructure in the northern 80% of the property.

We submitted an alternative project design map showing the southern 20% of the parcel as preserve, but with four and a half proposed golf course holes in that section left in place. The rational for this was that the number of holes in this section was originally proposed to be 10. Then it was eight, then six, now four and a half. Golf course greens, while not ideal for cultural preservation, are somewhat flexible.

The FEIS’s strongest case against leaving the 130 acres as preserve was that it could force the whole golf course to be eliminated as well as eliminate the proposed holding ponds to mix brackish and reclaimed water.

By leaving the holes on the map, that argument disappears. CH 343 requires that alternatives be considered even if they cost more.

If 504 Single Family lots, which are now proposed to be sprawled over a total 274 acres, were compacted by 50 acres and all fit into the northern 80% of the land, the 50 acres now proposed for single family view homes in the southern 20% of the land where the 130 acre preserve is needed, could be left as native plant habitat.

Instead of a 130 acre preserve, W670 is proposing a 40-acre native habitat easement in the southern 20% of the land. This area leaves out many concentrations of native plants. They are “offsetting” that loss by offering to fence around 250 acres of Ulupalakua Ranch Land in Kanaio. W670 spokesman, Jencks told the Maui Planning Commission that he is letting Ulupalakua Ranch use his W670 well waters for construction water during the ‘Auwahi windmill road building, in “trade” for this easement.

USFWS still wants the 130 acres, (July 3, 2012 letter) but may be under pressure to settle for 40. What is not being discussed in the Wailea 670 Final EIS is the fact that the Kanaio habitat is at 3,000 foot elevation , while the Palauea -Keauhou habitat (Wailea 670) is located between 400 and 800 ft elevation. These are the rarest dryland habitats. It is these lowland habitats for the endangered Blackburn sphinx moths and various native dryland forest plants that USFWS and others hope to keep viable. The lands of Wailea 670 are an important link because they are located between Puu o Kali and Ahihi-Kinau dryland forest preserve areas.

This is why most of the southern 20% of Wailea 670 lands are being proposed for critical habitat by the USFWS for the rare awikiwiki vine as it is being evaluated to be listed as an endangered species. To shrink the possible habitat available in Wailea 670, just does not make biological sense. To redesign the project, while it is still in a relatively fluid state, does make sense.

Sierra Club Comments on Wailea 670 EIS follow:

From: Lucienne de Naie July 24, 2012
Sierra Club Maui Group
P.O. Box 610
Haiku, HI 96708

To: Maui County Planning Commission

Re: Honua’ula LLC Final EIS Hearing

Greetings Chair Hiranaga and Commission Members,

One of the main purposes of an EIS is to analyze alternatives to the proposed action.

• The Honua’ula Draft EIS discussed six alternative proposals, but included no plan with a 130 acre preserve. Maui Planning Commission asked the applicants to include this alternative in the FEIS.

The Honua’ula Final EIS included the 130 acre preserve design option specified in its conditions of zoning, but dismissed it by providing broad generalizations, rather than factual comparisons.

We ask that the Commission not find this section acceptable.

Our laws specify a very different approach, asking that

1) “particular attention be given to alternatives that enhance environmental quality, avoid, reduce or minimize some or all of the project’s adverse environmental affects, costs and risks…”

2) “rigorous exploration and objective evaluation of the environmental impacts..” and

  1. “Analysis shall be sufficiently detailed to allow the comparative evaluation..”

The project design of Wailea 670 is governed by four documents.

  1. the State LUC Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (1994)
  2. Title 19.90A of Maui County Code which defines Project District 9 in the Kihei-Makena Community Plan
  3. Ordinance No. 3554 which sets out 30 standard and project specific conditions for Project District 9
  4. Kihei-Makena Community Plan

Condition 27 of Ordinance 3554 requires a “preservation/mitigation plan for the conservation of native Hawaiian plants and significant cultural sites in Kihei-Makena Project District 9..” be established by easement in perpetuity. A minimum preservation standard is defined as …”The Easement shall comprise the portion of the property south of latitude 20°40’15.00″N, excluding any portions that the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the United States Corps of Engineers find do not merit preservation, but shall not be less than 18 acres and shall not exceed 130 acres.”

We are submitting, for purposes of discussion, a map that portrays the project with the130 acre preservation standard with three and a half golf course holes incorporated into the preservation area design. The single family and multi family homes proposed within the 130 acre preservation area, as defined above, would be shifted to the northern 540 acres of the project.

Most advocates of “Smart Growth” favor compact development patterns such as this map suggests, to minimize costs of distribution of infrastructure, road building etc. and protect unique resources. The EIS should analyze this option and supply adequate financial estimates of costs to permit an actual comparison of options. A value should also be placed on the existing 130 acre dryland forest ecosystem and its biological services.

  • This design would not eliminate the golf course and its drainage and water storage capacities in the Southern portion of the project.
  • Would avoid costly road building, sewer pipe installation, potable water delivery and extensive site grading in the roughest terrain on the souther 20% of the property.
  • Could cut down on overall non- potable water needs.

• Would allow historic Kalama-Kanaio Road to remain along its present alignment rather than be rerouted as is presently proposed and conform to the map in Title 19.90A.

  • Would satisfy condition 27 and provide protection for native ecosystem as well as the numerous documented and undocumented cultural sites. Could save costly cultural site preservation plan implementation.
  • Would not significantly reduce the number of permits housing units.
  • Would conform with the combined guidelines of the three governing documents.
  • Could provide a wilderness park area which could enhance property values and be eligible for funding programs.

The FEIS does not inform us of the number of proposed homes in the 130 acre preserve , so our discussion is based on theoretical numbers until those specifics are provided to this Commission and the public as is required for “analyses sufficiently detailed to allow the comparative evaluation” of alternatives.

The density parameters in documents defining the project have flexibility. In Title 19.90A the minimum lot size in the SF subdistrict is 7,500 sq ft,. The FEIS speaks to having SF lot sizes between 7,000 and 20,000 sq ft. Ordinance 3554 specifies an average density of 2.5 units /ac or less and the LUC Findings of Fact specify SF at 3.1 to 4.1 units/ac.

While the LUC approved a document that proposed 2,000 units, two golf courses and several lodges on site, both the proposed plan and the LUC version have the range of SF units around 500. One solution to shifting the proposed SF units from the Preserve to the North would be to pursue the average density specified in the LUC approval: 3 units/acre instead of the average density in Ord. 3554 of 2.5 units/ac.

The shift of the Multifamily units could be considered in several ways, once again, the proposed unit count would need to be known. The VMX subdistrict is defined in all the documents as a:

“ center comprised of a mix of residential, commercial, and recreational and community facilities serving the needs of residents and guests.”

The FEIS refers to the residential use in the VMX district, but does not assign one housing unit to the VMX district. If the MF units from the Preservation area were shifted into the VMX zone, even at the low density of 6 units/ac above proposed businesses and shops at least 150 MF units could be accommodated on 25 of the 53 acres of VMX. Only 196 market priced MF units are proposed on 60 acres. If half (100) were proposed for the preserve area, it would seem feasible to accommodate them through this shift. This would create a VMX which actually fits the description proposed, without pushing more density into the existing MF areas.

Sierra Club Maui urges the Commission to request that the applicant consider this alternative design option in the EIS.


Lucienne de Naie

Sierra Club Conservation Committee.

Wailea EIS Comments

Sierra Club Maui Group                                                June 30, 2001
Po Box 791180
Paia, Hi 96779

PBR Hawaii
Attn: Tom Schnell, AICP
1001 Bishop Street, Suite 650
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

RE: DRAFT EIS for proposed Honnua’ula/Wailea 670 Project

Mahalo for this opportunity to offer comments on the Draft EIS for this project on behalf of the six hundred members of Sierra Club Maui Group. Sierra Club has offered input to this project since its expansion to 670 acres in the late 1980’s. We have long felt that the sensitive characteristics of this site and the amount of modification proposed for golf course and housing warranted an updated EIS process. We appreciate the applicant’s response to our request to extend the deadline for comments.

We are disappointed that the so-called EA issued in conjunction with this project, contained so little specific information about what was planned. This lack of two levels of review for a complex project, compressed the public’s opportunity to provide meaningful comments into a very short time frame. While this DEIS is lengthy, it has many sections which appear to be cut and paste from previous sections, with no additional information being offered.

We also believe that this document does not meet the requirements set forth in

HAR 11-200-17(E) which requires proposed actions to provide the information necessary to permit an evaluation of potential environmental impacts in their EIS.

Segmentation of Associated Actions

There are a number of actions associated with this project which are necessary precedents for the larger project and, to be in compliance with HAR 11-200-7 (B), these must be included in the DEIS to avoid segmentation of environmental review. A famous case here on Maui involving Kahana Sunset condominiums established this as an important legal precedent.

The Supreme Court opinion stated: “the Commission is the agency receiving the request for approval of the action, and it is therefore the agency responsible for preparation of the environmental assessment.” In so holding, we recognized that “[i]solating only that particular component of the development for environmental assessment would be improper segmentation of the project.”

This appears to be what is happening with a number of actions connected to the Honua’ula project. Widening of Piilani Hwy from Kilohana to Wailea Ike St. is a required condition of rezoning, as are improvements to Wailea Ike and other intersections. Environmental review for these actions has been done separately and is not included in any meaningful way in the project’s DEIS.

Off-Site Affordable Housing

Likewise there is no discussion, evaluation or mitigation of the impacts of the proposed 250 affordable units in North Kihei (except a plan to reduce traffic impacts required by conditions of rezoning). These are part of the Honua’ula project, although they are located elsewhere.

Major offsite Infrastructure

Offsite wells, transmission lines and storage tanks for potable and non-potable water supplies and wastewater transmission lines are located on private land and will have no environmental review if they are not evaluated in the DEIS. Only the wastewater line has any discussion of botanical review, but no report or survey maps are included.

MECO Power Station Expansion

Basic information about the proposed MECO expansion should be included in the DEIS, since the expansion area adjoins a reservoir area to store brackish water for Wailea resort.

Do transformers contain toxic substances? Is there a minimum distance recommended between electrical equipment and homes, shops or public spaces? The DEIS should present as much information as available, whether MECO decides to expand or not.

While it is mentioned that the present overhead high voltage power lines that transect the property will be relocated underground, it is not mentioned if lines from the proposed Auwahi wind farm would likely be located above ground or below ground? Will specific archaeological review be done along the corridor where the high voltage lines are buried?

When will information be obtained from MECO to meet condition 18 of rezoning, since this information is part of Project District Phase II approval?

Wastewater Treatment Facility

The DEIS does not appear to have the Sewage Disposal Analysis reviewed and commented upon by state and county agencies, as required by condition of rezoning No. 16 prior to Phase II approval. . Instead, it states that;

“For a more detailed analysis Honua‘ula Partners, LLC has engaged Brown and Caldwell Engineers to prepare a Draft Honua‘ula Sewage Disposal Analysis. In accordance with this condition, the Analysis will be submitted to the State DOH and DLNR and the County DEM and DWS for review and comment before Project District Phase II approval. The Analysis, along with reviews and comments, will then be submitted to the Maui County Council for review. “

Since the Planning Commission is responsible for granting the project’s Phase II approval, and the Analysis must be submitted to various agencies for review before Phase II approval, this DEIS should already include the Sewage Disposal Analysis and related comments to provide adequate opportunity for meaningful review and comments by the public and the Planning Commission,

Especially important would be a discussion of comparative wastewater fees for residents. Since affordable homes are guaranteed parity with public facility rates, would Makena Resort’s wastewater system be able to operate with half the customer base at lower fees? Policymakers should have access to this information as early in the process as possible.

Based upon the large volume of critically needed information lacking either any inclusion or review in this DEIS document, Sierra Club would request the accepting authorities to find the document incomplete and premature and request that the DEIS be resubmitted when the missing information can be included. To not take this action is to segment the project, in direct violation of HRS 343 and its applicable rules.

3.6 Biological Resources

The proposed 22 biological preservation area is wholly inadequate, and ultimately neither sound conservation planning nor wise resource utilization. The 143 acres of fragmented preservation areas proposed around the golf course holes in the southern portion of the site does not offer the best strategy for successful management.

Dr. Jonathan Price, an expert in Hawaiian dryland forest preservation commented on the Honua’ula plan:

“the smaller the area preserved, the more intensive the management will need to be. A site of a few acres for example, particularly if divided into scattered smaller units, will require costly, intensive management, in order to maintain even a modicum of ecosystem integrity. On the other hand, setting aside an area of more than 100 acres would require some degree of management, albeit far less intensive than the former scenario.”

The DEIS should analyze a Project Design layout in the Alternatives Section that includes a 130 acre botanical cultural preserve, to be in compliance with condition no 27 of rezoning.

4.1 Cultural Resources

The project’s AIS is based upon methodologies that involve minimal testing (only six of 40 sites, most with one 1ft by 1 ft test unit), inadequate mapping and incomplete fieldwork.

The AIS does not specify how many field sessions involving how many personnel, for how many days have taken place at the project site, nor does it elaborate on the transect areas covered. These are all standard disclosures in archaeological reviews. It is still unclear if actual transects have been completed of the northern 480 acres.

It is clear that when citizens reported during public testimony that numerous additional cultural sites were on the land, they were correct. Twelve new sites with nearly twenty features have been recorded since the last draft AIS in 2001. Citizens continue to submit pictures and locations of additional sites. It is clear that the AIS is far from being complete.

Site evaluation at Honua’ula project does not appear to actually be based upon the State Historic Preservation law process. Especially lacking is a clear assignment of significance Criterion E as specified by 13-284-6(b) 1-5 HAR, which this AIS and DEIS must comply with.

Criterion E is defined in the AIS as: “ applies to sites or places perceived by the contemporary community as having traditional cultural value.”

The AIS version of criteria E omits the following underscored language;

(5). Criterion ‘e’ Have an important value to the Native Hawaiian people, or to another ethnic group of the state due to associations with cultural practices once carried out, or still carried out, at the property or due to associations with traditional beliefs, events or oral accounts – these associations being important to the groups history and cultural identity.

Only the three recorded stepping stone trail sites have been evaluated as significant under criteria E”. One segment of stepping stone trail recorded earlier, placed on a crude map and not assigned a number has seemed to disappear from the inventory survey. It is not explained whether this segment was not relocated, combined with another segment and assigned the same site number or has simply been forgotten. Cultural practitioners have shown photos of several additional unrecorded segments of stepping stone trails on the project site. Some of these trails appear to lead to planting areas. Some make connect with trail segments found on the Wailea golf course or in Palauea preserve further west. No accurate maps have been provided showing relationship of the trail sections. It is unclear whether all are being preserved in their original cultural setting.

4.8.1 Water

Preliminary Engineering Report relies on declaratory statements about the adequacy of the project’s water systems without supporting technical studies to substantiate its claims. There is not enough quantitative data on water systems to permit any impact analysis. There are no independent hydrology reports. The USGS study referred to that purportedly supports higher available flows for Kamaole aquifer, only mentioned the aquifer as one entry in an aquifer chart. The USGS report offered no analysis of the aquifer’s potential SY. The 1988 hydrology report for the project cautioned that Wailea 670’s wells could impact downslope wells in Wailea and comments from Wailea Resort management made the same statement. The DEIS must analyze the proposed use of the Kamaole aquifer for the project’s demand by researching and evaluating the entire range of existing users and the relative pumpage and salinity of their wells. Water fees for residents must also be discussed to comply with rezoning conditions.

4.8.3 Drainage

Drainage plans appear to be elaborate, but there is little quantative data to provide assurance that the assumptions they are based upon will prove to be sufficient to mitigate impacts. For example, one of the larger areas of drainage flow impact, basins 1 through 5 at the north of the project site have a high concentration of high-density urban environment proposed, the lowest percentage of golf course lands to absorb run off, and drainage basin systems not scheduled to be completed until Phase II (2018) or Phase III (2022) of the project. The existing offsite drainage impacts to this area during a 100 yr / 24 storm are huge: over 2,100 cfs (1300 mgd). Currently two 10ft or more diameter culverts are installed to carry water from this sector of the project area under Piilani highway and eventually to the ocean. Options, such as a larger natural buffer area between, Maui Meadows and Honua’ula should be discussed as viable alternatives to mitigate overflows in this high impact area. Currently, less than 4 acres is proposed for this buffer.

To give a blanket statement, that the project’s theoretical system of drainage basins, and absorption by golf courses and open space will mitigate large storm event flows, seems highly speculative. No examples of similar successful designs were included in the DEIS discussion for comparison. Tit also seems risky to assume that pre-existing and off site flows will not need additional containment measures in order not to overwhelm facilities designed for only post development flows. If coastal impacts result from the project, what mitigations will be available to restore the health of public trust resources?

There is no plan for all-important maintenance of the retention basins in the “Master Drainage Plan.”

4.10.5 Parks

One of the project’s 3 private neighborhood parks is located along the makai boundary of the property in a natural gulch area currently subject to high velocity flows during storm events. A park location on either side of the natural gulch would be more practical.

Sierra Club Maui requests that the accepting authorities find this DEIS incomplete and premature. Without including the omitted studies and evaluation information in the DEIS, the project is not in compliance with the environmental review laws of the State of Hawaii. We appreciate this opportunity to share our remarks.

Sierra Club Maui Group,
Lucienne de Naie
Conservation Committee