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Maui lawmaker drafting bill to address cane burning impacts

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    Hawaiian Commercial &?Sugar Co. burned cane along Haleakala Highway in August 2013. Residents downwind from the sugar cane fields have complained about the cloud of ash produced by the burning that drifts toward their homes, saying it causes health problems. HC&S says it is doing its best to ease the impact of its practices.

WAILUKU >> A state lawmaker from south Maui plans to draft a bill for the next legislative session to appease both residents who oppose the burning of cane fields and the company that burns them.

The Maui News reported Tuesday that Rep. Kaniela Ing said he will propose a bill that will provide incentives for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., the state’s last sugar plantation, to reduce the effects of cane burning smoke and to use its lands for alternative crops. Sugar cane is burned before harvesting to remove leafy material that makes up to a quarter of the plant.

Ing was prompted to act by a lawsuit filed last week that challenges the constitutionality of the cane burning permits issued to HC&S, he said. The lawsuit was filed by the group “Stop Cane Burning” and three Maui residents. It lists the state Department of Health as the sole defendant.

“The children of HC&S employees breathe the same air as everyone else, and no one wants to see a neighbor lose their job,” Ing said. “It’s time for leaders to craft solutions that unite, not divide, our community like mechanical harvesting and alternative crops. We all want to keep Maui green, so let’s move forward together.”

Ing’s plan suggests improving meteorological data collection to better predict weather changes. That could help prevent events like one that happened in May, when smoke from cane burning engulfed South Maui, including schools. The sugar company’s officials cited unexpected changing weather conditions for the problem. Ing says the Legislature should fund the Health Department’s efforts to ramp up data collection.

Ing suggests identifying plots suitable for mechanical and no-burn harvesting. He said he’ll call on the Legislature to expand a tax credit to cover some of the cost. He also said that the state could provide incentives for the company to convert or lease land for alternative crops.

“As a fourth-generation Mauian of mixed heritage, I am a direct product of the plantation,” Ing said. “I grew up with cane burning as a way of life with many of my friends depending on the salaries that HC&S provided their families. However, HC&S is losing $11 million every year, meaning our state’s last sugar plantation is in jeopardy.”

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