Op-Ed: Maui’s most controversial permit was approved in only 29 minutes

http://www.mauinews.com/opinion/columns/2018/02/mauis-most-controversial-permit-was-approved-in-only-29-minutes/

Published as a Viewpoint Op-Ed in the Maui News on February 1, 2018

By Adriane Raff Corwin

It’s a matter of basic human decency to show respect toward each other’s ancestral remains. The Central Maui sand dunes are the resting place for thousands of iwi kupuna (ancestral bones), but landowner Maui Lani Partners has been allowed to illegally mine

hundred of thousands of tons of Central Maui sand and destroy countless burials in its Phase 9 site. Malama Kakanilua, a local group of cultural descendents and their supporters, is fighting to stop this desecration once and for all.

As a first step, County Council member Elle Cochran introduced legislation to establish a moratorium against all sand mining in Central Maui in spring 2017. It finally became law on Jan. 5 but included an exemption clause: Anyone with land in the moratorium area would be excused from it if they held a valid grading permit before the moratorium passed.

MLP’s Phase 9 permit was set to expire in late 2017, so it would not be able to get a new permit once the moratorium became law. But instead, in late November 2017, the Public Works Department quietly extended Maui Lani’s Phase 9 permit. The time stamp in the email exchange showed only 29 minutes passed between Public Works receiving MLP’s application for permit extension and the department’s approval of it. This made sure MLP’s Phase 9 site is exempt from the moratorium.

Public Works cannot claim that it was unaware of the controversy. In April 2017, Gina Mangieri of KHON2 did an expose on the scheme between development company MLP and cement company HC&D (formally Ameron) to mine thousands of tons of sand from MLP’s Phase 9 site, export it on barges and create cement for construction projects like Oahu’s rail. According to KHON2, MLP and HC&D’s joint owner, the Mills Group, made $30 million off Maui sand mining in 2016 alone. All of this was done with a simple grubbing and grading permit (No. G2014/0090); the Mills Group found loopholes in the law that allowed them to mine away the small amount of inland sand Maui has left.

Mayor Alan Arakawa called for a moratorium on sand mining but took no action, so Malama Kakanilua sent him a letter in May 2017 that explained why MLP’s Phase 9 permit should be revoked, including the fact that MLP provided incorrect information in its original application by checking “No” after the application question, “Are there known burials, cemeteries, or other historic sites on the property?” The land in question is a well-documented pre-contact burial ground, and this type of omission should warrant revocation and reevaluation.

David Goode, director of Public Works, signaled that he was aware of the controversy by writing a letter to the State Historic Preservation Division in July 2017, relating community testimony stating MLP did not have required archaeological monitors on hand during its work.

So, despite the fact that the original permit application included false information, new burials were found at the site, the council was working on a moratorium, Maui-Lana’i Burial Council was weighing a motion to preserve the burials in place, Malama Kakanilua filed a lawsuit against MLP, the judge issued a preliminary injunction in that suit to stop the mining, and the Planning Department sent a warning letter that MLP initially ignored, Public Works extended MLP’s Phase 9 permit in 29 minutes — without consulting any other pertinent agency or department.

Malama Kakanilua and Sierra Club Maui are calling on the county to revoke MLP’s permit extension as well as the grading permit granted to Waiko Industrials (also granted right before the moratorium for another highly sensitive burial area). We want a complete audit of the permitting process so that we: 1) get to the bottom of how the MLP permit was approved in the first place, and 2) ensure this blind approval process stops once and for all.

County government needs to make sure the mining stops. So far, Public Works has taken no action, so Cochran has introduced a new bill to remove the exemption clause from the moratorium law, which may be discussed at the Feb. 2 council meeting. We urge the public to stand up for decency and demand these burials be protected.

* Adriane Raff Corwin is the directing coordinator of Sierra Club of Hawai’i’s Maui Group.

9th Circuit Court Rules in Favor of SC Maui and allies!

Big Update!

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the county’s use of injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility since the early 1980s violates the federal Clean Water Act. Sierra Club Maui, Surfrider Maui, the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, and West Maui Preservation Association first brought the lawsuit in 2012. Read our lawyerʻs press release here.

Submit Comments on the Anaergia MANA Draft EIS

(Read about this issue in our previous post here  and in a Maui News article about the recently held public meeting.)

Anaergia/MANA has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to the county, which must be approved in a final form before the project can move forward.

The deadline to comment on this Draft EIS is Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

We urge Sierra Club Maui members and supporters to submit comments on the Draft EIS.

At first glance, the project might look eco-conscious and economically viable – but when you delve into the details, it becomes very clear this project has not been properly vetted. 

Here is the announcement of the Draft EIS (PDF) in the December 23, 2017 OEQCʻs The Environmental Notice.

The Draft EIS is available for download here (large PD).

 

Comments should be emailed to:

 

Anaergia’s MANA Project Questioned in The Maui News

Original Article at: http://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2018/01/sewage-plant-project-would-end-landfill-green-waste-composting/

 

Sewage plant project would end landfill green waste composting

Green waste is dumped off at EKO System's drop-off at the Central Maui Landfill in this photo taken in February 2016. A proposed renewable energy project at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility would put the 23-year-old composting facility out of business, diverting the sewage sludge that is a necessary component in EKO's composing process. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Green waste is dumped off at EKO System’s drop-off at the Central Maui Landfill in this photo taken in February 2016. A proposed renewable energy project at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility would put the 23-year-old composting facility out of business, diverting the sewage sludge that is a necessary component in EKO’s composing process. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Maui EKO Systems, which has processed the island’s green waste and county sewage sludge into compost for nearly 23 years, could be put out of business as early as the end of next year because of a proposed renewable energy project at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility.

The closure stands as one future impact among several other potential problems residents voiced during a community meeting focused on the project led by Maui All Natural Alternative, an Anaergia Services company, on Wednesday at Kahului Elementary School.

“I think we left the meeting with more questions than answers,” Sierra Club Maui coordinator Adriane Raff Corwin said Thursday. “They didn’t give many specifics at all, so we’ll be following up. But I think last night’s meeting illustrated the community has a huge amount of concerns and questions that aren’t being answered.”

Officials with the energy company and county Department of Environmental Management provided a brief presentation and answered questions during their first public meeting on the project. An environmental impact statement is nearly completed, and a final draft is expected later this year.

“No project I’ve ever seen in my 27 years with the county is perfect, but I think this consists of everything we’re looking for,” Environmental Management Department Director Stewart Stant told the crowd of about 40 people.

Stewart Stant

Stewart Stant

The project calls for installation of an anaerobic digester to produce methane gas from energy crops grown on former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. lands. The natural gas would be refined on-site and fuel a combined heat-and-power engine to generate electricity for the sewage treatment plant.

Waste heat from the plant’s engine would dry biosolids, or digested sewage sludge, produced by the plant. The anaerobic digester would be located on the west side of an existing aerobic blower building.

The treatment plant is next to the ocean on Amala Place in Kahului. The Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is inland of the sewage treatment plant, and Kanaha Beach Park and Kahului Airport are located to the east.

Anaergia and county officials said the renewable energy project would provide 4.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year and dry the county’s 24,000 tons of biosolids annually. The biosolids would be treated and returned to the county to possibly be used as fertilizer for parks, including the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course.

The energy company would develop the project at no upfront construction cost to the county and charge the county 29 cents kWh as part of a 20-year contract.

Residents and environmental watchdog groups took issue with the charge per kilowatt hour, which is more than double what Maui Electric Co. pays wind farms and for fossil-fuel generated power.

Doug McLeod, vice president of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said the price is high because the county advertised the project as “gas turbine to dry sludge,” which solicited just one bid from Anaergia. He added that there seemed to be “a lot of very strange aspects” in the deal that he believed was not the most cost-effective for taxpayers or the safest for the environment.

“When you look at this price 29 cents that is well more than double the current market price for solar power,” McLeod said Thursday. “It would seem to be a lot more than other renewable options, but we don’t know that because the county didn’t ask” for alternatives.

McLeod, who also runs an energy consulting firm and is the former county energy commissioner, said many solar companies did not bother to meet with the county to discuss the project because of the clear restrictive language that favored Anaergia. He believed only Pacific Biodiesel showed interest.

Raff Corwin also questioned why the county did not seek separate solutions for disposing of biosolids and producing energy. She wondered why the treatment plant proposal needed to combine both aspects into one and was concerned about air quality and odors produced by the plant.

“I still haven’t gotten a clear answer as to why these two needs had to be combined,” she said. “It sounds like we’re going to have a huge amount of dry sludge and green waste no longer turned into composting material.”

In 2014, Anaergia, a California-based company, signed a separate 20-year contract with Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration to build a waste conversion facility at the Central Maui Landfill.

Anaergia and county officials acknowledged that the wastewater treatment plant waste-to-energy project would be related to the landfill project because it would provide dried sludge for the landfill waste conversion project. But they maintained the contracts for the projects were separate.

McLeod said he is skeptical of the landfill waste-conversion facility, which has yet to have an EIS preparation notice published. Anaergia had previously tried to build an energy plant using wastewater in 2015 but was shot down by the Public Utilities Commission.

“These contracts people think they’re free with minimal upfront cost, but they will cost the county money in the end,” McLeod said. “There’s obviously a lost opportunity.”

As for EKO, the company’s current contract with the county ends in June, but the two sides will likely extend until the end of 2019, plant manager Rubens Fonseca said Thursday. The company has 20 workers.

The composting operation was established to extend the life of the landfill by diverting green waste and sludge.

“I hate to see this product that has been offered to landscapers and farmers here almost 23 years going to be gone,” he said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@maui news.com.

Raise Your Voice Against Anaergia/MANA’s Digester Facility

Maui County is contracting w/ Anaergia Services, LLC via its local Maui company MANA, LLC (Maui All Natural Alternatives) to build a waste digester power plant.

BUT TO MAKE IT WORK, ANAERGIA NEEDS TO:

  1.  Get water from A&B to –
  2. Grow sorghum crops on A&B land to –
  3. Harvest the crops to –
  4. Bring the crops to Kahului to –
  5. Put in their not-yet-built $20 million waste digester plant to –
  6. Create biogas to power the Wailuku-Kahului Reclamation Facility (WKWWRF) next to it.

THEN: Anaergia will use the heat from the digester to dry all of Maui’s human sludge (excrement) and make it into fertilizer pellets to sell back to Maui residents. And the plant will  be located in the tsunami evacuation zone.

Sierra Club Maui submitted comments on this project, back in late 2016 when the County Council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee (IEM) was considering a resolution authorizing a lease to Anaergia for this facility. Then, very quickly, the lease resolution was pinched out of the IEM Committee by Council member Don Couch and Chair Mike White, and brought before the full Council in the last meeting of 2016, where the lease was approved without further discussion. In January 2017, some new council members were sworn into office who likely would have put up a fight against rubber stamping this lease – so the actions in December 2016 ensured the new council members couldn’t stop the project.

Flash forward to January 2018. Anaergia/MANA has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to the county, which must be approved before the project can move forward, and they are holding a public meeting on Wednesday, January 24th for the public to learn about the project.

We urge Sierra Club Maui members and supporters to attend this meeting and to voice concern with this project.

At first glance, the project might look eco-conscious and economically viable – but when you delve into the details, it becomes very clear this project is, in a nut shell, going to lead to a lot of money spent for little-to-probably no improvement, while getting in the way of real improvement in the county’s usage of renewable energy and fiscal responsibility.

There are more efficient, safer, and CHEAPER ways to power the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility (WKWWRF) with renewable energy, like:

  1. Use solar power and battery storage (there was a much more affordable project planned with Haleakala Solar that was unceremoniously cancelled by the county, after which the Anaergia project was announced)***
  2. Harness biogas from existing compost and trash on the island (Maui currently has no industrial compost heap, food goes into the trash stream)

***The cost of electrical generation for the cancelled solar PV project with Haleakala Solar at WKWWTF would have provided energy at about half the cost of Anaergia’s project. The solar PV project was cancelled by former Dept. of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza after Haleakala Solar had already done $75,000 in design work. At that time, solar energy would have cost about 15.9 cents/kwh for the first year, compared with Anaergia’s 29 cents/kwh. And since then, MECO’s latest Purchase Power Agreement for solar has dropped to 11.7 cents/kwh (with cost of storage factored in, the final price would be higher, but it would still cost much less than 29 cents/kwh).

 

Here are our concerns that we gave to the Council in 2016 and that are still very valid today:

  1. Cost: Initially, Maui County would pay for electricity at a rate close to that of today’s oil-based electricity from MECO, but with a contracted rate increase of 2.2% per year for twenty years. Without a doubt, within five or ten years the county will be kicking itself for committing to such an exorbitant price for electricity as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall (and solar is already well below even the starting price). At face value, the proposal may sound economical because Anaergia and its subsidiary assume the cost of building the power plant. However, there is no reason to consider Anaergia to be a charitable organization. Its calculation of the charges to Maui County are based on recouping the $20M construction costs, costs for permitting, costs for running the plant for 20 years (including energy crops), and profits. Rather than a great deal, this can be considered a loan at very high interest to the county. If the project made sense for other reasons, it would be more cost-efficient to issue a bond or seek grants and finance it without contracting Anaergia.
  2. Location: There was agreement at a 2016 hearing, including by Director Stewart Stant, that the location which would host the power plant, being at sea level and in a tsunami zone, is a poor choice. The county has been thinking about moving the WKWRF inland. Director Stant said it is more urgent to move the Wailuku Pumping Station, which supplies waste to WKWRF (Wailuku Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility), than to move WKWRF itself. However, one does not exclude the other. Adding a power plant to the existing WKWRF means, 1) it will be much more difficult to move WKWRF, and 2) it canʻt be moved until 20 years after the power plant is online (which itself is likely years away).
  3. Green Waste Disposal Costs: Currently, EKO collects and combines green waste with sludge to produce compost, which it then sells. Removing the lucrative sludge element from the county’s contract with EKO may cause EKO to terminate its remaining green waste contract, as green waste alone has very little resale value. The county would need to contract with a new entity that will collect only green waste; this entity will likely charge a much higher rate per ton because the new entity will need to apply for permits, as well as provide its own location and industrial equipment because EKO’s current location may become a landfill site; with the resale value of green waste so low, the entity will need to charge sky high prices to make a profit. We urge you to pay close attention to the timeline of when EKO’s contract may terminate and when the county could feasibly have a replacement green waste collection entity online. By state law, green waste is not allowed in the landfill, so the county cannot throw away green waste while waiting for a new composting program to come online. [In news articles like this one, county officials claims that the MANA project will bring down costs, but they always fail to mention that the reason why EKO costs are high is because the county wouldn’t give EKO a contract that would last more than 2 years.]
  4. Alternatives: Director Stant said that the reason for proposing the electricity generating plant for the WKWRF instead of the Kihei Wastewater Reclamation Facility is that the Kihei facility already has an excess of solar power during the day but has no way to store the power for use in the evening and at night. A much more cost-efficient investment would be to add battery storage to the Kihei facility. Combining solar and storage at Kihei could be a pilot project which could then be replicated at the other facilities.
  5. Community input: County’s Corporation Counsel said there is no room for public input during contract negotiation for services (which she said is 95% done). However, collecting public information and input only after a contract is finalized is an expensive and cumbersome model which generally leads to community dissatisfaction.

 

These were our concerns regarding the Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice, which are still very relevant for the Draft EIS:

  1. Conflict of Interest: Currently, the county is both the proposing agency and the accepting agency, which is a clear conflict of interest. Because the project will be built on state-owned land, we ask that a state agency be the accepting agency. This will resolve this conflict of interest.
  2. Third Party Consultation: We are concerned that this project’s FEIS has not been outsourced to a non-partial third party consultant. If MANA researches and writes its own FEIS, it is very unlikely that potentially serious concerns will be highlighted and examined and that feasible alternatives will be given fair consideration.
  3. Local knowledge: We are concerned that because no local expert consultants have been hired to assess all potential environmental and cultural impacts (especially on the local bird populations in the Kanahā Wildlife Sanctuary) that the FEIS will be severely lacking in important local expertise. We would like to see local avian experts brought on board to analyze this project.
  4. Tsunami Zone: We are very worried about not only placing more expensive long-term infrastructure in the tsunami zone but also the effects it may have on the environment if a tsunami or extreme flooding event happens. If a catastrophe occurs, how will MANA mitigate the risk of waste, flammable gas, and other toxic emissions escaping from the facility into the surrounding industrial and residential areas?
  5. MECO: How will the county negotiate with MECO to take the WKWWRF off its grid? What might be the exit costs of taking the facility off the grid?
  6. Energy Analysis: For the “Identification of Alternatives,” we would like independent energy and waste consultants who have no connection to MANA to create a more robust list of potential alternatives and analysis of their pros and cons.
  7. Carbon and methane footprint: While the facility will create energy from renewable resources, we have doubts as to whether it will actually reduce our carbon and methane footprint. We would like the FEIS to contain a complete analysis of the full carbon and methane footprint of the facility, as well as a listing of any VOC emissions that may occur.

Sand Mining Moratorium Passed! But the Fight Continues…

After more than seven months of discussion, on January 5, 2018, the Maui County Council passed the Sand Mining Moratorium into law, the final vote 7 – 2 (Yuki Lei Sugimura and Riki Hokama were the no votes).

But the bill provides exemption from the moratorium to anyone with an already existing permit. In Nov. 2017, the Dept. of Public Works RENEWED Maui Lani Partners’ permit for work in their Phase 9 site – even though a judge issued a preliminary injunction against all work in that area, stating “…disturbance of burial sites will produce substantial, irreparable harm.”

Maui Lani Partners has been stopped from working by a Maui court of law but our own county government rubber stamped their request to continue – without talking to the State Historic Presentation Division either. This is just one glaring incident that shows how our permit system is broken and needs to be rectified immediately. Because of the Dept. of Public Work’s actions, Maui Lani’s Phase 9 site will be exempt from the sand mining moratorium – unless the county rescinds it.

On Friday the 5th, before the council voted, Mālama Kakanilua and Sierra Club Maui held a protest outside the County building to call on the County to rescind their renewal of Maui Lani’s permit.

News Coverage

Hawai’i News Now Reporter Mahealani Richardson did a video story on the passage of the moratorium, and the Maui News and Maui Now published articles:

http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/37204692/maui-council-passes-6-month-sand-mining-moratorium

http://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2018/01/council-oks-sand-mining-moratorium/

http://mauinow.com/2018/01/19/mayor-signs-maui-sand-mining-bill/

 

Photos from the Protest

 

Sierra Club Maui Pizza Fundraiser on the 19th!

 

COME TO OUR FLATBREAD PIZZA FUNDRAISER TUESDAY, DEC. THE 19TH!

Help us reach our end of year fundraising goal – come buy some pizza at Flatbread Company, Maui in Pa’ia between 4-10 pm, and we’ll get a portion of every sale – take out or eat in!
We’ll also have a great silent auction with items from Historic Iao Theater Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort and more! Come get some last minute holiday gifts…

Mahalo for your support!