Maui budget pays for water rights
The county allocates $7 million to buy watershed lands
WAILUKU » Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa is moving forward to obtain water rights for an expanding Valley Isle population and restore flows to some streams.
Arakawa signed into law yesterday a $476.8 million annual budget that includes $7 million to buy watershed lands and transmission systems from Wailuku Water Co.
Wailuku Water, formerly a part of Wailuku Agribusiness whose lands were once used extensively for sugar cane cultivation, operates a private water system that includes some 13,166 acres of watershed land in the West Maui Mountains.
The county is close to reaching the limit in withdrawing water from the major ground-water source at Iao and has been looking at obtaining mountain surface water to provide for its urban expansion.
The acquisition is also expected to provide additional stream flow to several streams and satisfy environmental worries about restoring native stream life and taro cultivation.
"With this budget allocation, Maui County is helping to heal environmental and cultural wounds," said Haunani Apoliona, chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Earthjustice had initially opposed the county seeking additional water permits but withdrew their objection in December, after the Arakawa administration said it would seek to restore flows to the streams.
Earthjustice attorney Kapua Sproat said the $7 million was a historic step away from sugar companies controlling water in Hawaii.
"This is the first effort of its kind," she said.
Wailuku Agribusiness President Avery Chumbley has said in the past that the $7 million was too low.
Arakawa said part of the reason why the county is seeking to acquire water rights from Wailuku Water is because the land use has changed considerably.
Wailuku Agribusiness has been selling off large portions of its land, and Arakawa said his administration is willing to seek condemnation to obtain the rights to the water.
The $476.8 million budget is 22 percent more than the budget for 2005-2006 and also adds $38.4 million for sewer and road improvements, $10.5 million for the construction of a new fire station in Kaunakakai, and $3.2 million to acquire 28 acres in Haiku for a fire station and municipal complex.
A 32.1 percent increase in overall property values provided the bulk of additional revenues in the budget.
Council members dropped the homeowner's tax rate to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation from $3.50 per $1,000. They also increased homeowner's exemption to $300,000 from $200,000.
Councilmembers struck down a request from Arakawa to use a residence at the former lime kiln site in Paia as an environmental resource center.
The county, noting the land was designated as open space in its community plan, obtained the 5.7-acre site in a settlement, after withdrawing permission to build condominiums.