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Mayor to Seek Moratorium on Maui Sand Mining

Maui Sand Dunes. PC: Iwi Protectors

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa today said he plans to ask the County Council to declare a moratorium on the export of sand off-island.

The statement comes on the heels of an investigative report that aired last night on KHON2 exposing the sand trail from the Central dunes on Maui [1] and the route it’s taking to Oʻahu to be used for concrete in construction projects.

Some individuals have raised concerns about the implications of cultural and natural resource depletion of the raw material, expressing their views before the Maui-Lānaʻi Burial Council.

Kaleikoa Kaeo, a Maui resident who served on the Oʻahu burial council in the 90s, testified at the latest meeting saying the sand dunes in Central Maui are filled with iwi kupuna. He cited historian, Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau saying, “in fact he says very clearly, that the unearthing of iwi kupuna is a sign of treachery and rebellion and really the work of enemies in your land.”

Sand removal at central Maui sand dunes. PC: Kai Nishiki.

He also referenced Kamakau saying that the natural features of the land itself are considered sacred.  Kaeo urged the council to seek protections for the entire area saying, “It’s not the particular sites and particular individual burials that you may find as being sacred and must be protected, but the whole complex in itself is sacred and needs to be part of this conversation.”

Others who testified agreed that there should be a moratorium on the removal of sand, saying they observed trucks going in and out of the site “non-stop” for three hours, “I mean, not even a second of peace,” one testifier said.

Maui County Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons said the practice of excavating Maui Inland sand and shipping it to Oʻahu first came to light for him in 2003, his first year he was appointed by Mayor Arakawa.  “It arose in the context of beach erosion and replenishment, and looking to quantify our inland sand resources, given the high rate of exportation. Working with UH Sea Grant agent Zoe Norcross, we raised interest in contracting a study to track historical sand mining/ shipping data, and to project how much of this precious resource was still available.”

Mayor Arakawa said studies that when the Maui Inland Sand Quantification Study was released in 2006, it showed that Maui’s sand supply would be depleted in less than a decade if such mining was allowed to continue.

“This is why I asked the county council back during my first term to explore the option of declaring a moratorium on the export of sand in order to extend the life of Maui’s remaining sand resources for our people,” said Mayor Arakawa in an email communication to Maui Now.

Parsons noted that the extensive Pu’uone dunes, stretching from Waiheʻe to Waikapū, is the result of tens of thousands of years of deposits.  “The 2006 study informed us that at current mining/shipping rates (96 barges in 2005), there was perhaps only 5-6 years of the remaining resource. Maui has lots of inland sand, but most of it is impounded by houses, roads, commercial development, golf courses, or in areas of concentrated native Hawaiian burials.”

Mayor Arakawa posted the question, “Why are we exporting sand to Oʻahu when we are going to need that sand for our projects and replenishing our beaches?”

According to Mayor Arakawa, construction projects were stalled when the recession hit, so sand mining wasn’t as a pressing concern when he started his second term.  He said, “with the economy back in gear it has become an issue once more. Therefore I plan to ask this new council to do what our old council did not, which is to declare a moratorium.”

Parsons said scrutiny of this “unsustainable practice” is again being pursued following social media inquiries, attention with the Maui-Lānaʻi Islands Burial Council and a direct letter to Mayor Arakawa. “Mayor Arakawa has transmitted a document to County Council indicating his willingness to have them discuss a proposed moratorium on the exportation of Maui sand resources. Barge numbers, which lessened from 2007-2015 spiked noticeably last year, when 57 sand/aggregate barges left Maui. The numbers this year are showing a similar increase in the pace of exportation,” said Parsons in response to an inquiry from Maui Now.

According to the KHON2 report, shipments of sand from Maui continues, largely at the 1,000-acre Maui Lani development, which has a permit to excavate an estimated 213,920 cubic yards of sand at its Phase 9 site.  The report notes that HC&D, formerly known as Ameron, has a lease for a stockpile site on Maui, and that some of the sand is shipped to its cement plant on Oʻahu.

The county is also in the process of investigating the issue of sand being mined and transported off property.

Maui Planning Director Will Spence tells us, “So far we have determined that while the grading permits were issued properly, the excavation and exportation of high-quality sand for making concrete and other purposes meets the definition of a ‘resource extraction.’ As per Maui County Code, any resource extraction being performed on agricultural zoned land also requires a special use permit. They would also need a conditional use permit for the project district.”

Spence said, the county has in the course of its investigation relayed this message to company officials.  “Further actions may be necessary once the county’s investigation is complete,” Spence said.

Parsons said he believes the current resource extraction should require Special Use Permits for activities being conducted, not merely a grading permit which requires checking off a few boxes on the application. “How can we consider the broad range of impacts without a proper reporting of a full systems analysis of the operations?  A sustainability audit would likely show the short-sightedness of the current plundering of this ecological, economic and cultural resource.”

He said we would be wise to reflect upon how the sandalwood trade of the early 1800’s, calling it “the first environmental and cultural catastrophe in recent Hawaiian history.” He continued saying, “The whaling industry and slaughter of Hawaiian monk seals are two other examples from that century.”

“Sustainability requires that we use our available resources in ways that will not prevent future generations from using them in similar fashion. It’s clear that Oʻahu has exceeded its ability to provide its community with local resources, and thus is seeking outside resources to address its unsustainable growth. We need to see the hand-writing on the wall and be certain Maui doesn’t follow a similar path,” said Parsons.