Hospital, Olowalu fire station, among priorities for Pluta’s West Maui group
March 3, 2023, 5:19 AM HST
* Updated March 3, 6:29 PM
The nonprofit West Maui Taxpayers Association has been an influential force in supporting a number of public improvement projects in West Maui since its inception in 1979, including the West Maui Senior Center at Lahainaluna Road and the Lahaina Bypass.
As a volunteer board member and now president of the organization representing more than 2,000 members, Joseph Pluta strives to make sure West Maui gets its fair share of improvements while striving to keep taxes reasonably equitable.
With assistance of his other board members, he has successfully supported the development of the Lahaina Aquatic Center, obtained a million dollar grant for matching federal and county funds for the creation of the Lahaina Skateboard Park, and successfully lobbyied for state funding to keep affordable housing at Front Street Apartments, where some 250 tenants faced eviction.
The Association has also helped to raise millions of dollars in private funds to develop the Nāpili Fire and Ambulance Station, handing over the facility as a gift to Maui County.
Maui Now writer Gary Kubota interviewed Pluta who has served as the association’s president for the past six years.
Maui Now: A People Of Maui Interview
KUBOTA: What lies ahead?
PLUTA: We are working on a Hana Hou repeat of private funding to develop our second fire station, this time at Olowalu. We already have a donation pledge of two acres of land from the landowner, Olowalu Homes Inc.
KUBOTA: What’s happening to your Association’s hope to develop the first hospital in West Maui?
PLUTA: After receiving support from the Kāʻanapali 2020 Planning Committee and a 15-acre land donation, we successfully obtained the “Certificate of Need” for the West Maui Hospital from the state Health Planning and Development Agency. This process was in conjunction with plans by the Newport Hospital Corporation and its president Brian Hoyle. Mr. Hoyle subsequently formed the nonprofit West Maui Hospital Foundation, an entity driving the modified project forward after many years of seeking financing for the project. We understand that a multi-million dollar special purpose revenue bond issuance will permit a modified West Maui Hospital to become a reality when secured.
KUBOTA: How important is it to have a hospital and/or air ambulance in West Maui?
PLUTA: Health and Safety is our highest priority. On any given day, the lack of a hospital in West Maui places 80,000 people at severe risk. They’re more than one hour away from our only 24/7 Acute Care Emergency Medical Services at Maui Memorial Health in Wailuku. Lives are lost and tragic medical outcomes result because of this inability of residents to receive timely, acute care within the “golden hour.” We’re looking for equitable, humane care for residents and visitors to West Maui, where more than 50% of the county and state income on Maui is derived from taxes.
KUBOTA: What’s the status of the application for a cancer center in West Maui?
PLUTA: The Association is also supporting a state Certificate of Need application for a Maui Cancer Center in Lahaina, where cancer patients can be treated conveniently and without travel hardship in West Maui.
KUBOTA: What’s happening with the coastal erosion problem faced by the nine condominiums at Kahana Bay?
PLUTA: We’re supporting the Kahana Bay Steering Committee’s effort to raise money for beach restoration and stabilization. The Committee wants the county to designate Kahana Bay as a “Community Facilities District,” enabling funding of restoration and stabilization through county bonds. The bonds are repaid through special taxes levied upon property owners within the district. The Maui County Council has to work with the county administration to officially authorize this “Community Facilities District” which will enable necessary financing for the Kahana Bay Restoration. These nine condominium properties are valued at over a billion dollars with tremendous tax assessment income to the county government. We need to preserve and protect the tax base at Kahana Bay which will pay for this restoration and benefit everyone with improved beach access and enjoyment. T-groins have been recommended by experts in studies, and we fully support them as the most beneficial to all concerned.
KUBOTA: Any other projects you’re supporting?
PLUTA: We are supporting the extension of the Lahaina Bypass North to Kāʻanapali. The current Keawe Street terminus is a disaster, overburdening a county connector Road. We’re also seeking a relaxation of certain infrastructural improvements in the development of housing for workers. It is essential that the county and state recognize investing in the infrastructure associated with proposed housing developments to enable them to be truly affordable.
KUBOTA: How important is providing workforce housing in West Maui?
PLUTA: More than 7,000 workers travel on Honoapiʻilani Highway daily to work in West Maui. The average West Maui worker spends three extra hours a day simply getting to and from work. The lack of housing has gotten to the point that businesses on the West side cannot obtain the workers they need and are closing or reducing services.
KUBOTA: Any ideas on what’s could contribute to a housing solution?
PLUTA: The county and state-owned lands need to be utilized and also in public-private partnerships to realize and participate in addressing the economic realities of housing costs.
KUBOTA: What are you most proud of in terms of your association’s accomplishments?
PLUTA: I have been a part of miracles that have saved lives literally. I am most proud of the Nāpili Fire and Ambulance Station, which we privately funded and gifted to the County of Maui.
KUBOTA: How did you come about living and settling in West Maui?
PLUTA: My first job on Maui was to be the general manager of the Papakea Resort in 1979. During my first year on Maui residing here, I fell in love with the island and its people and wanted to make this my permanent home and raise my family here.
My wife Carole shares my feelings about Maui. She is a former executive director of the Association and she fully supports me striving to contribute to the community.
Maui is heaven on earth.