CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
People participated in a sign-waving rally Wednesday along Honoapiilani Highway at the entrance to the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali before the start of a Maui County Council committee meeting.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen on Wednesday announced the staggered reopening of tourism in West Maui, starting Oct. 8 with the northernmost resort area of Kapalua.
Bissen said the more deliberate approach, developed with members of his Lahaina Advisory Team, will allow housing needs to be addressed for the nearly 8,000 residents displaced by the deadly Aug. 8 wildfire and now living in temporary quarters at hotels, short term rental units and other accommodations across the island.
For many of them it will also provide a return to work, he said, and a chance to get their children settled into the three remaining public schools in Lahaina once classes resume the week of Oct. 16. The campuses have been closed since the wind whipped blaze killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2,200 structures in the historic town, nearly 90% of them homes.
Bissen’s announcement came at the same time scores of Lahaina residents, one after the other, urged Maui County Council members during a standing room- only committee meeting in Kaanapali to put the brakes on tourism and seek a different path forward as the community rebuilds.
An estimated 700 people were present when the Council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee convened at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa to gather testimony on Council Resolution 23-194, which calls for developing a comprehensive recovery and resiliency plan in response to Aug. 8 wildfires in Lahaina and Upcountry.
The nearly 150 people who signed up to speak to the panel in person offered impassioned, angry, emotional and anguished testimony often in the Hawaiian language — over the course of the meeting, which stretched into the evening hours.
n the face of estimated economic losses of $13 million a day from the sudden drop in tourism to West Maui and skyrocketing unemployment, Gov. Josh Green on Sept. 8 announced that West Maui would welcome visitors starting Oct. 8, without providing a frame- work.
According to the plan announced Wednesday by Bissen, the first phase of reopening covers the area from the Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua to Kahana Villa. Following an assessment of the initial phase, the area from Mahinahina to Maui Kaanapali Villas would be the next to reopen to visitors, followed by the stretch of Kaanapali where the majority of displaced residents are staying, from the Royal Lahaina Resort to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
Testifiers throughout the day echoed similar sentiments and also called for a ban on short-term rentals to ensure housing is available for locals. Other themes included the need for better emergency planning and establishment of neighborhood evacuation routes; better management of the privately owned former plantation lands that provided fuel for the Aug. 8 wildfire; a demand for underground utility lines; scrutiny of private control of water resources; and expanded use of reclaimed wastewater to maintain greenways as firebreaks around neighborhoods and irrigate traditional agricultural crops.
Residents also called for a prohibition on land sales in the disaster area to “outsiders” and the need to offer support to families with generational ties to the region. Some urged county officials to find ways to expedite planning and permitting to shorten the rebuilding process.