By Wendy Osher
Officials at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company responded today to a cane burning petition presented by members of an opposition group on Maui.
In the statement, HC&S General Manager, Rick Volner said, “We recognize there are different views about farming in Central Maui. We respect everyone’s right to express opinions and we listen to what people have to say.”
The petition, which organizers say contains an estimated 8,730 signatures, was delivered to state Health Department officials on Tuesday. Organizer Karen Chun delivered a second petition to HC&S today.
Company officials contend that they have taken additional steps to mitigate impacts of cane burning, and continue to look for ways to improve operations. As the last sugar plantation in the state, Volner said the company remains committed to keeping HC&S alive.
One of the missions moving forward is to explore options for converting the plantation from a sugar farm into a bio-energy farm, said Volner. He also stated that the company would be unable to remain a part of the community if it were prohibited from burning cane today, before a viable alternative is found.
The statement from Rick Volner, HC&S General Manager released this afternoon reads as follows:
We did meet today with the group against cane burning and received their petition which calls for the prohibition of cane burning at HC&S. We recognize there are different views about farming in Central Maui. We respect everyone’s right to express opinions and we listen to what people have to say.
All of HC&S’ 800 employees are Maui residents—we live here too and care greatly about our community’s health. We have taken additional steps to mitigate the impacts of cane burning, such as more notification tools for people to find out, in advance, where and when we will be burning; improved weather collection data and analysis; and changes to burning practices. And we will continuously look for ways to improve our operations, while reducing our impacts to our neighbors.
For more than 140 years, HC&S has been growing sugar cane in Maui’s Central Valley. And while HC&S is, today, the last sugar plantation in the state, we are committed to keeping HC&S alive. We have 800 employees and their families who are dependent on the plantation. We invest over $100 million a year in Maui’s economy, providing a significant economic benefit to the broader community. We keep the Central Valley green and beautiful, in contrast to its arid and sparsely vegetated condition before cane was grown. And we are an important source of renewable energy for Maui, where we not only supply all of our own electrical needs, but 6% of the rest of the island’s electrical needs as well.
But we are not standing on just the past. One of our primary missions is to explore every option for converting the plantation from a sugar farm, into a bio-energy farm — growing a feedstock that can be converted into a renewable source of fuel that can reduce Maui’s dependency on imported oil. In partnership with the University of Hawaii and other agencies, we have received $12 million in federal grants to test a variety of feedstock, and are in discussions with companies that are working on technologies to convert that feedstock into biofuel. We believe that this is the best route for HC&S in the long-term, but it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, we remain committed to sustaining HC&S and the positive contributions we and our employees provide to the broader community. If, however, we were to be prohibited from burning cane today, before we can find a viable alternative, HC&S will be unable to remain a part of the Maui community.
The company offers updated information on harvesting and burn schedules via a recorded message available at (808) 877-6963, and also via a web-based map online at: Cane Burning Schedule Map.
Organizers of the petition have also scheduled a sign waving event this Saturday, September 29, in Kahului. More meetings may be scheduled between Stop Cane Burning and HC&S, according to group organizers.