VIDEO: HC&S Backers Rally in Support of Lifestyle, Jobs
[flashvideo file=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x24l6yK6mkE /] By Wendy Osher
Supporters and employees joined in a rally this morning to back the state’s last Sugar Plantation as it faces a growing controversy over its practice of cane burning.
The event drew nearly 100 people who held signs and stalks of cane along a strip of the Mokulele Highway near the company’s mill and central base of operations.
The rally was one of two planned today–the other was hosted by opponents of the company’s cane burning practice, who voiced their concerns just one intersection away near Dairy Road.
“I’m offended that these people protest the cane smoke when it’s a non-issue,” said HC&S supporter Charles Silva. “Just let it be. There’s a lot of other things wrong other than cane smoke. I feel they’re just attacking A&B because it happens to be a big conglomerate that’s easy to attack. I’m plantation people–my whole family has been plantation. That’s how I grew up,” said Silva.
HC&S retiree, Charles Jennings voiced similar sentiment saying, “To be honest with you, it’s kind of ridiculous–people come here and try to stop a lifestyle here on the island. Bottom line here is the working people need jobs on this island. If those people complain about burning cane–if they can support 800 workers–then they have a right to speak; but my point is who are they to say how to run the lifestyle of the island? It’s a community… They come and try to tell a lot of people what to do. To me they’re ridiculous,” said Jennings.
“The community wants to show their support for our company,” said HC&S internal combustion engine mechanic Kelly Ruidas. “Part of that support,” he said, “includes the practice of burning cane prior to harvesting.”
Ruidas said the issue really is about people and how their lives will be affected. “In the end, it’s all about people–the 800 employees, the 800 of my fellow workers who depend on Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company to support their families. At the end of the day, I believe that the community understands this.”
Fellow HC&S worker, Seldon Biga, who has been with the company for 35 years said, “For a lot of us, we depend on this job for our financial stability to raise our families, to give opportunities to our kids to grow here, to hopefully fulfill their dreams of going to college. My concerns are also for the rest of the employees here and also the community and all the vendors and everyone in the county that depends on us.”
The Sugar Roots Maui event was organized by community member Brian McCafferty who said, “It’s reached a point where the very existence of the plantation is threatened by misconceptions that are generated by people who have some legitimate concerns; but there has to be a more patient dialogue so that there’s more of an understanding between the more recent arrivals perhaps that live downwind of the sugar cane fields, a little more understanding of the plantation culture that has existed for so long, and they must try to resist exaggerating or twisting the truth.”
HC&S General Manager, Rick Volner released a statement earlier this week saying of the missions moving forward is to explore options for converting the plantation from a sugar farm into a bio-energy farm. 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.
Doug Sheehan, who works at the A&B Sugar Museum across the street from the HC&S mill said that although he is not an employee of the company, his job would be in jeopardy. “The affect of HC&S closing would be so destructive to Maui. We’d have tourism and that’s all we would have… If they went to a non-burn situation, they probably would end up shutting down, and I don’t think anybody on Maui really would like that,” said Sheehan.