HOUSE FINANCE COMMITTEE VISITS MAUI
MAUI – Members of the House Finance Committee, led by Chair Kyle T. Yamashita, conducted site visits in Maui to view firsthand several projects and programs supported by the Legislature, and visit state-owned properties in Lāhainā. During this visit, committee members met with stakeholders to learn about community needs and identify key priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
During the interim, the House Committee on Finance will continue to conduct site visits across the state to gain insight into the status of ongoing projects and assess the needs of neighbor island communities. Here are some highlights of the site visits during October 25 – 27, 2023:
Soil & Water Conservation Tour – Upcountry Maui
The House Committee on Finance visited a fire-damaged agricultural lot in Kula to discuss soil and water conservation district management, particularly in wildfire mitigation.
Michael Constantinides, assistant director of technology at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, highlighted extreme weather, drought, invasive species, and land management as factors contributing to the area's fire vulnerability. During the site visit, officials discussed a plan to air-drop seeds to prevent soil erosion.
In the upcoming legislative session, discussions on soil and water conservation district management are expected to continue.
Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary School
Following the August 8 Lāhainā wildfire, Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary School has transformed into a hybrid campus, requiring quick adjustments to its new circumstances. On October 18, approximately 300 students from Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena returned to campus alongside more than 200 students from King Kamehameha III who are currently receiving their education on this campus until the West Maui Temporary School in Pulelehua is completed.
The House Committee on Finance had an opportunity to visit the school and meet with the principals of both campuses who shared insights about the current situation and identified pressing needs for the students. Representatives also learned more about the school's Hawaiian Language Immersion Program or Kaiapuni School, one of 22 such non-charter immersion programs that were implemented in the Department of Education beginning in 1987. The department has requested additional funding for the immersion program in the coming session.
Hālau Keʻalaokamaile Cultural Resource Center
Kumu Hula Keali‘i Reichel established Hālau Ke‘alaokamaile to perpetuate the Hawaiian tradition, culture, and heritage through its arts, beliefs, dance, language, and agriculture. For years, he harbored a vision of creating a dedicated space where students could engage in hula practice and performances while being immersed in Native Hawaiian culture and actively participating in community outreach.
In 2022, Halau Ke'alaokamaile secured $881,600 through Grant-In-Aid funding allocated by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. With the support of private donations, and federal and state grants, the Halau embarked on the exciting journey of building their cultural center which is located on a 4-acre parcel on Piʻiholo Rd in Makawao. The center is currently under construction.
Waiʻānapanapa State Park
The House Committee on Finance made its way to Hana, where they stopped by Waiʻānapanapa State Park. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this popular park, situated near the end of the renowned Hana Highway in East Maui, had seen overcrowding and a surplus of commercial tours. This significantly impacted the neighboring rural community and affected the overall visitor experience as well.
To address these issues, a new reservation system was put into effect in 2021. During the site visit, park officials outlined their ongoing objectives which include the sustainable management of the park, and a balance between maintaining an improved experience while respecting the local community's needs.
Lāhainā Wildfire Disaster Zone
The House Committee on Finance conducted site visits to evaluate the ongoing recovery efforts in the aftermath of the Lāhainā wildfires. Their first stop was to the site of King Kamehameha III Elementary School, to assess the damage and gain insight into ongoing recovery efforts. Representatives received an update that cultural advisors have been actively involved, working alongside archaeologists and forensics experts to identify and preserve culturally significant aspects of this historical property.
At Lāhainā Harbor, House Representatives received an update from the U.S Coast Guard on the recovery progress, encompassing search and rescue operations, FEMA assignments, and debris removal. Efforts are underway to work closely with vessel owners for access, maintenance, and environmental and historical preservation, including the preservation of significant cultural artifacts. The timeline for these operations is ongoing.
House Representatives also visited the site of Front Street Apartments, a Hawaiʻi Housing Finance & Development Corporation (HHFDC) 142-unit project built in 2001. Throughout the 2024 legislative session, there will be anticipated discussions regarding the need for affordable housing for residents, especially in the wake of the Lāhainā wildfires.
Conversations at Mala Wharf focused on potential legislation for the upcoming session, with an emphasis on addressing commercial matters while protecting the concerns of local residents. The Department of Boating and Ocean Recreation provided an update on the funds received in previous years from the Legislature and the status of projects, which include upgrading bathroom facilities, improving lighting, and enhancing the facility's striping.
Lastly, an update on the West Maui Temporary School was provided during a briefing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Plans are underway for the West Maui Temporary School, a transitional campus to be located at Pulelehua near Kapalua Airport. This school will support students who previously attended King Kamehameha III Elementary and are currently receiving their education in a hybrid, temporary environment at Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary School.