Maui News

Land Board set to take up proposed purchase of 257 acres at Māʻalaea Mauka

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The state of Hawaiʻi is considering the purchase of 257 acres of watershed lands at Pōhākea, also known as Māʻalaea Mauka, for $8.22 million. Funding includes $6.2 million from Maui County. PC: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

The state of Hawaiʻi is considering acquisition of nearly 257 acres at Pōhākea, also known as Māʻalaea Mauka, for $8.22 million, as a forest reserve to protect the watershed and prevent massive erosion from damaging Māʻalaea Bay.

Acquisition funding includes $6,200,000 million, or 75.43%, from Maui County; $1,020,000, or 12.41%, land donation from the landowner; and $1,000,000, or 12.17%, from the State of Hawaiʻi Legacy Land Conservation Program of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The proposed purchase is on the May 10 agenda of the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the DLNR board room, on the first floor (Room 132) in the Kalanimoku Building at 1151 Punchbowl St. in Honolulu. There are Zoom and livestream links on the agenda.

The Land Board is being asked to approve acquisition of 256.9 acres at Pōhākea, mauka of Māʻalaea, for a forest reserve. According to a staff report from the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the vacant and agriculturally zoned property would be purchased from the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, although the land is currently owned by Hope Builders Inc. and WMC Holdings LLC. Trust for Public Land has agreed to buy the property from the current owners and then convey it to the state.


“This will be very good news if it is approved,” said Maui County Council Chair Alice Lee. “We had come so close to acquiring this land just a few years ago, and it was disappointing that the seller chose another buyer.”

“I’m very appreciative that DLNR and TPL have worked this deal out, and that the seller is willing to convey the property to the state and even make a significant donation,” Lee said.

A title report was obtained Jan. 16, and the DLNR Land Division and the Attorney General’s Office have identified no problems with land title. An independent appraisal determined the property’s fair market value at $8.22 million. The purchase price agreed by the landowner was $7.2 million.

The property includes easements for three water wells and a 750,000-gallon water tank on adjacent properties. The water will help with land management, including habitat restoration, construction of green/shaded fire breaks and reforestation to prevent erosion.


The staff report notes that the land is adjacent to 3,414 acres of state-owned conservation lands that are “prone to cycles of hazardous wildfires followed by massive erosion events.”

Brown runoff can be seen in Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor. The state’s purchase of 257 acres mauka of the harbor would allow land management to break the cycle of wildfires and erosion that smothers nearshore waters in South and West Maui. PC: Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

“The fires threaten public safety and properties in the nearby commercial and residential areas, cause closures of the only road available for emergency vehicles needing to get to urgent care services from Lahaina, and threaten the watershed and cultural resources of the native ecosystems of Mauna Kahalawai,” the staff report says. “The erosion events smother nearshore coral reef ecosystems that support recreational, commercial and subsistence activities, significantly damaging those ecosystems.”

State ownership of the land will allow the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife to continue collaborative efforts with agencies, non-governmental organizations and landowner partners to plan and implement land management solutions to break the fire and erosion cycles, restore habitats and stop erosion that fouls nearshore waters in South and West Maui, the report says.

Plans include setting aside the property and mauka state lands to forest reserve and incorporation into the Mauna Kahalawai Watershed Partnership.


Key property management objectives include:

  • Constructing and maintaining fire breaks and green/shaded fuel breaks.
  • Habitat restoration to improve landscape resilience.
  • Installing dip tanks to improve fire suppression.
  • Designing and constructing erosion control measures.

The property also includes the historic Lahaina Pali Trail, which would remain open for public recreational use.

In May 2022, the Maui County Council approved setting aside $6.2 million to purchase and protect Pōhākea Watershed Lands. But the Council was surprised that, days later, developer Peter Martin of West Maui Land Co. bought all 257 acres for an undisclosed price. The Council action was on May 6, and the sale to Martin closed on May 10. On May 13, 2022, the Board of Land and Natural Resources voted to approve another $1 million for the purchase.

Council Chair Lee said having the Pōhākea watershed lands in DLNR’s hands will be “vital to responsible land management, including wildfire prevention, erosion control and habitat restoration.”

She added that “I hope the County Administration will then be able to release the funds promptly, though they will have to look carefully at the balance of the Open Space Fund because the Council approved several key appropriations from the fund in the current and next year’s budgets, including for an Open Space buffer between Waikapū and Wailuku that is a top priority for the Waikapū community. These appropriations must remain a priority.”

A map included in a staff report to the Board of Land and Natural Resources shows the location of Pōhākea Watershed Lands, also known as Māʻalaea Mauka. The property is located along Honoapiʻilani Highway, mauka of Maui Ocean Center, Māʻalaea Shops and Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor. Screen grab from DLNR report

As part of a Phase 1 environmental site assessment of the Pōhākea property, contractor Ford and Associates, a licensed environmental consulting firm, found and removed abandoned 55-gallon drums and vehicles. Petroleum and other volatile substances were detected but at concentrations well below Hawaiʻi Department of Health environmental action levels. The site assessment found no historically recognized environmental conditions on the property.

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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