Maui is at an important crossroad. Major decisions are being made that will affect every resident and shape our beloved island’s communities and environment. These decisions and their timely implementation will allow us to control anticipated events and may prepare us to react effectively to events beyond our control.
Changes and Challenges:
a) Our agricultural future may face the biggest changes. Numerous forces raise a cloud over HC&S’s sugar operations, including increased concern over the health effects of cane smoke; legal challenges to restore water flow to East Maui streams; reduced electricity sales to Maui Electric; and decreased revenues due to low world sugar prices. Economics may be the decider, and that includes A&B’s desire to “bank” its valuable lands and retain water rights.
In addition, the courts will decide whether Monsanto can continue to grow and experiment with GMO crops on Maui due to health concerns that led to an initiative against GMO agricultural practices by Maui County residents.
Concurrently, there is a movement to make Maui agriculturally self-sufficient and organically healthier. Will Maui’s corporate agriculture be replaced by a more diversified, sustainable agriculture?
b) Our Maui County government has operated with a “Strong-Mayor” format for many decades and may be in serious need of a different structure. Most local governments of Maui’s size utilize a “Council + County Manager” structure where a professional County Manager and department heads are selected based on experience and qualifications, rather than on political connections, “name recognition,” or as a reward for loyal followers. In 2016 residents may vote for a Charter change.
c) Due to the uncontrolled growth of luxury homes that drive up home costs and rental fees, local families are becoming frustrated that their children are being forced to leave Maui. Our County government will need to regulate McMansions and provide for additional work-force housing in livable neighborhoods with proper infrastructure.
d) Our hospital’s management will change from public (State control) to a private operation. To balance its budget will Kaiser cut back on services? Dismiss employees? Raise rates?
e) Our Time-Warner cable system, plus much of our internet and telephone service may be taken over by Charter Communications which doesn’t have the highest reputation. Will the Hawaii DCCA actively protect consumers with tough, pro-active negotiation of contracts and subsequent strict enforcement of conditions? How will Maui’s local Akaku station fare?
f) Maui’s electricity future will change if Hawaii’s Public Utility Commission allows Florida-based NextEra to take over the Hawaiian Electric Company monopoly, including its MECO subsidiary. However, Maui County is now investigating alternative energy management opportunities: a Maui-based public utility, or a consumer-owned cooperative like Kauai’s.
g) Electricity production and distribution may adjust to reflect a need to reduce electricity costs, control climate change, and become less dependent on imported fuels. Solar, wind, and geothermal could play a larger role, especially if we decide to be less reliant on a large centralized power plant and more comfortable with distributed production and local battery capability.
h) Will high tourism employment continue if the County persists in allowing hotels to transform into timeshares with a reduced need for hotel and restaurant employees? With many unemployed workers, wages may be reduced for the remaining workers resulting in housing and rental costs becoming even less affordable.
i) Beyond our local control, but nevertheless significant, are several natural environment trends: modified weather patterns that may mean reduced and more variable rainfall, making agriculture less secure; decreased comforting trade winds; and rising sea levels, forcing Maui to restrict public and private shoreline construction.
j) The County administration’s proposal to push for direct international flights from some Asian cities could open Maui to serious pests for which we are unprepared. The administration wants to allow tourists to have passports checked at the departure airport, but is making no provision for needed inspections of potential invasive species, especially from tropical cities.
The many decisions we face mean that Maui’s future will probably be significantly different from today. Our leaders will need to make politically difficult choices that can reduce negative consequences and enhance benefits. Will they (and we) be up to it? The answers will determine Maui’s future.
Retired Professor Dick Mayer taught economics and geography at Maui Community College for 34 years and was Vice-Chair of the Maui General Plan Advisory Committee.