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Thursday, April 13, 2000

West Maui heliport
plan raises hackles

By Gary T. Kubota


LAHAINA -- Some Valley Isle residents want to ground a state House bill that would allow a commercial helicopter operation at the former Olowalu landfill in west Maui.

And several residents who haven't made up their minds say they're upset at the way the original bill would authorize a heliport without going through normal land-use review by the county.

"I think it's the most outrageous backroom political maneuver that I've seen in a long time," said Joan McKelvey, a Lahaina businesswoman.

Donald Mitsumura, another resident, said the community needs more information about the proposal before making a decision.

"The gist is -- let it go through normal procedures, which it hasn't," Mitsumura said.

West Maui has no landing site designated for helicopters. From Lahaina, the nearest helicopter site is more than 20 miles away at the Kahului Airport.

Olowalu is located about eight miles south of urban Lahaina, along an agriculturally zoned coastline of scrub brush formerly used for sugarcane cultivation.

Less than a half mile away, about 734 acres of the land is being subdivided into agricultural lots of 3 to 70 acres.

Under House Bill 2185 introduced this year, the state, which owns the land at the landfill, would authorize the development of a heliport at Olowalu and give the Maui County Council the power to disapprove it.

The state Senate revised the bill to require the Council to approve the heliport.

A House-Senate committee is expected to discuss the bills after conferees are selected by Monday, according to state Sen. Cal Kawamoto's office.

The Maui County Council passed a resolution Friday asking state lawmakers to require the heliport proposal to go through county land-use procedures, including a review of the zoning.

"I think there should be an opportunity for the community to provide input," Councilwoman Charmaine Tavares said.

State Rep. Joseph Souki, who introduced the House bill, said the original version had some merit because it proposed a site outside of urban west Maui.

He said he will be supporting the Senate's version of bill calling for more community review.

"It think it's changed for the better," he said.

Former Maui Councilman Howard Kihune, who worked on the heliport proposal on behalf of Sunshine Helicopters, said the intent of the bill was to provide enough revenue so the county could pay for emergency helicopter services.

Kihune said the proposal calls for the state to allow the county to use the site under an executive order.

He said the county could receive revenues from landing fees to pay for emergency helicopter services at a different location, such as the county fire station in Lahaina.

Kihune, who lives in Lahaina, said he felt emergency helicopter services were needed in west Maui.

"You save one life or two -- that's terrific," he said. "You cannot measure that in dollars."

Sunshine president Ross Scott said the proposed site is located two miles from the nearest subdivision and the impact would be negligible.

"There's a big hill in the way," Scott said. "I think once they saw and heard the helicopter going in and out, their concerns would go away."

Brian Blundell, a west Maui resident, said he's not opposed to helicopter service for emergency medical purposes but doesn't like the location.

Blundell said the proposed heliport would be too close to future subdivisions, and he's worried about what might happen if there were a crash.

He said he's also worried about the health and safety of building a heliport over the former landfill.

"We know there's a fire going on underneath that dump," Blundell said.

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