Council advances eminent domain land condemnation for Central Maui Landfill expansion

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Central Maui Landfill visitors are greeted several informational signs and a view of what’s been called “puʻu ʻōpala,” or hill of trash. Maui County Council members gave initial approval Friday for the county to acquire nearly 20 acres for landfill expansion and the final disposal of ash and debris from the Lahaina wildfires. PC: Brian Perry

Maui County Council members moved quickly Friday morning to give the first of two approvals for the county to launch eminent domain condemnation proceedings in 2nd Circuit Court. The court action would help the county get legal access to a nearly 20-acre former quarry site for the final disposal of toxic ash and debris from the Lahaina wildfire.

The action to move ahead with a rarely used eminent domain proceeding came after a Tuesday morning presentation on the proposal before the Council’s Government, Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee. During that meeting, council members tried but were unable to learn specifics from representatives of landowner Komar Maui Properties of what it would cost the county to acquire the property without going to court.

West Maui Council Member Tamara Paltin said passing the matter on first reading “significantly relieves many of the Lahaina residents’ anxiety levels,” particularly with a pending lawsuit challenging the use of Olowalu as a temporary debris disposal site.

Many of the residents are asking “what will happen if that’s not an option, if everything will stop, if they won’t be able to go back to their houses in time,” she said.


After Tuesday’s meeting, Paltin said it was clear that Komar and its local partners (Pūlehu C&D LLC’s Ken Ota and Keoni Gomes) are “not at all on the same page.”

“The statement that they could do it faster than the county; I question why they haven’t built a landfill in the last nine years,” she said. “They were asking for a county state special use permit that the county received from the Department of Health, which we’re not obligated to do their work for them… If they could do it faster than the county, then they should have gotten their own special use permit and build the landfill in the past decade, which they did not do.”

Paltin also noted that the property being sought for acquisition is landlocked on three sides by county property and, on the fourth side, there’s a 50-foot cliff blocking access to Pūlehu Road.

“The things that they’re saying is just not realistic,” she said. “They haven’t ever publicly set a price. So, it’s very difficult to negotiate in good faith with people like that.”


Paltin also took issue with Komar’s request to get future revenue from landfill tipping fees.

“The county is not in it to make a profit,” she said, adding that the county’s role is to provide a public service. Agreeing to provide a percentage of future tipping fees would mean raising fees for residents instead of charging for services to break even, she said.

Kahului Council Member Tasha Kama said she had wanted to give the county and landowner a chance for last-minute negotiations to reach an agreement, but since that didn’t happen she supported authorizing the eminent domain proceeding.

Council Vice Chair Yuki Lei Sugimura, who also tried to make a deal possible with a review in committee, said, after the GREAT committee’s review, “I think we saw what we’re up against” in negotiating with the landowner.


And, the committee heard from Lahaina residents on the urgency of getting a final disposal site for the fire debris, she said.

“Unfortunately, I’m going to support eminent domain,” she said.

Sugimura said she had hoped to avoid taking the landowner to court, “but it didn’t seem like that will be an option.”

Following the 9-0 vote in favor of eminent domain condemnation, Council Chair Alice Lee said, “That’s a big win for Lahaina.”

In other fire-related action, council members passed Bill 55 on first reading. It provides nearly $4.6 million for Lahaina wildfire disposal sites, specifically for land acquisition, design, permitting, environmental studies and cultural and topographic surveys for the permanent disposal site.

The bill also appropriates $1.28 million to the Solid Waste Operations program for operational costs, including hazardous waste training; and for development and implementation of a sampling analysis plan for commercial properties in Lahaina that clear their own ash and debris.

On second-and-final reading, council members passed Bill 46. The measure establishes an ash debris transportation fund to facilitate Maui County’s response to any accidental release of toxic fire materials stored at the temporary site in Olowalu during transport to the permanent site in Central Maui. The bill anticipates covering the costs of repairs and maintenance of roads and highways used during the trucking of the material.

Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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