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Maui water diversion prompts challenge

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Some native Hawaiians and environmentalists have filed a lawsuit challenging an environmental impact statement by a major landowner that would allow diversion of water to eventually develop thousands of acres of agricultural land for residential and commercial uses.

The suit was filed against the Maui County Department of Water Supply, the agency reviewing the environmental impact statement for the water project.

In the suit filed yesterday in Maui Circuit Court, Hui o Na Wai Eha and Maui Tomorrow Foundation alleged that the EIS accepted by the department fails to give enough details about the source of the water and its cultural and environmental impact on West Maui Mountain streams, including Waihee.

"The EIS focuses on the most narrow scope of issues," said Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake. "It just gives the whole EIS process a bad name to sweep these burning issues under the rug."

County spokeswoman Mahina Martin said the county has not been served with the lawsuit and declined comment yesterday.

Alexander & Baldwin’s subsidiary A&B Properties said developing additional sources of water has been a community priority.

Grant Chun, vice president of A&B Properties, said the county approached the firm to develop additional water sources and the proposal is part of a county water use development plan.

"For us, it is another source," he said.

The groups want the court to rule against the department’s acceptance of the environmental impact statement, effectively halting a plan by Alexander & Baldwin Inc. to take the 9 million gallons of stream flow to develop its residential and urban projects.

Under the proposal, the firm would divert most of the 9 million gallons of water from the Wailuku Water Co., develop a Waiale Treatment Facility to make the stream water drinkable, dedicate it to the county, reserve a portion of the treated water for its development, and sell some water to the county, the lawsuit said.

Earthjustice criticized the use of the 9 million gallons for Alexander & Baldwin’s development plan, including the reclassification of 4,000 acres of agricultural land.

John Duey, president of Hui o Na Wai Eha, said the proposal comes when Alexander & Baldwin has argued its subsidiary Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. needs water for agriculture.

"Even as A&B threatens to shut down HC&S if its diversions are scaled back, it’s rushing ahead with big plans in the water business," Duey said. "Our water resources are a public trust, not A&B’s property and profit source, and the EIS must examine all aspects of this proposal in full public view."

A decision returning less than a fifth of total flow of 70 million gallons per day to streams in the area by the state Commission on Water Resources recently has come under attack from Duey’s group and Maui Tomorrow.

The commission had looked at a recommendation to return 34.5 mgd to the streams but decided on less after hearing testimony from Hawaiian Commercial officials about how its future was tied to the accessibility of water.

"Our challenge against this shoddy EIS is yet another fight to ensure the rule of law prevails over plantation water politics," Moriwake said.


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