Sinenci and Carroll to compete again
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series on Maui County Council candidates leading up to the Nov. 8 general election. Today’s story focuses on the race for the East Maui residency seat. Stories on the other candidates will be published in the upcoming days, with an election guide to be featured in the Oct. 22-23 Weekender edition.
Two Hana residents with a passion for resiliency and sustainability in the rural and remote communities of East Maui are once again vying for the East Maui residency seat on the Maui County Council.
In 2020, Claire Kamalu Carroll of the Hana Community Association lost to incumbent Shane Sinenci, who had 32,995 votes to her 26,245 votes. Sinenci also defeated Carroll in 2018 with 23,654 votes to her 19,467 votes.
The first and “biggest issue” Carroll wants to address is increasing broadband access in East Maui to improve connections for emergency response, remote work, school work for keiki, and overall communication within and outside the community.
“East Maui is definitely an under served unit of Maui,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “Being that we’re in a situation in this day and age and time to use more technology, it is bringing up a lot of failure if you’re in meetings or if you have school work to do.”
The very remote neighborhoods are currently using Spectrum, with a handful of residents on Starlink, she said, but connection has proven to be spotty and slow for years.
“It just affects the overall community. If you’re on the Hana Highway and there’s an emergency, the only way you can call out to emergency is literally finding a home with a landline,” said Carroll, who travels the highway frequently. “It’s dangerous.”
Hawaiian Tel funded a company to install broadband lines, but the next phase that involves connecting the equipment to the lines needs an extra push, she said.
“We are waiting for that stage. It’s supposed to improve the services within East Maui,” she said “A lot of monies were given out on the federal side and the state side, so it would take working with the Legislature in order to push the funding into these areas that are really badly needed.”
She also wants to address the needs of generational families, kupuna, local farmers, and keiki by bringing in essential services, such as reopening the Hana Neighborhood Business Center, which had served as a hub for multiple nonprofits and programs but has been shut down for nearly two years.
“We have a lot of organizations that are displaced. For East Maui, that’s definitely on the list on how we can get this up and moving and getting our nonprofits back into Hana … . It’s very concerning when you have a long wait,” Carroll said.
For Sinenci, his priorities include having plans ready to mitigate the impacts of sea level rise, finding new affordable housing options, creating pilot programs for reducing waste, and funding nonprofits that support local farmers, kupuna and keiki services.
“We don’t get services that other communities near Central Maui often get, so I think to continue to fund our nonprofits that are working directly with our children, kupuna, we want to continue those,” he said.
Developers in East Maui usually ask for help with covering the costs of infrastructure, such as sewage, roads, and sidewalks, which is why Sinenci supported the increase in the fiscal 2023 budget for the affordable housing fund.
He also wants to focus on solutions for increasing septic capacity in order to add more spaces for homes by working with the Hawaiian Community Assets Housing Plan. He also supports more ohana units and tiny homes on current properties to add to affordable housing options.
In the past budget, an additional $1 million in funding was secured for an affordable housing project by Habitat for Humanity in Wakiu, Hana to cover the costs of rising building expenses, electrical and site work, and drainage regulations.
“It was an important project in the plans for years, so we wanted to make sure that they had enough money to fulfill that project,” Sinenci said.
Sinenci has proposed a Charter Amendment to establish Maui County Community Water Authorities, which would allow the county to pursue long-term water lease agreements with the state, like the one that East Maui Irrigation Co. — owned jointly by Alexander & Baldwin and Mahi Pono — is currently applying for.
The proposal seeks to create more local control over water use via regional community boards.
Sinenci said Monday the timing is “very important” and that the county needs to seize the opportunity to obtain 50- to 70-year leases.
However, if residents vote for the water authority in November, Carroll said she’s “really not sure” if the county would be able to take on substantial unknown costs and overall responsibility of managing the East Maui water system.
“I’m definitely pro-water, especially for our cultural farmers,” she said. “There are some worrisome issues that I’m highly concerned about. Ultimately, you have the water authority, but the state still has the bottom-line say to all of this.”
She used an example of what happened in the past when Colorado-based Hana Water Systems LLC took over the operation, management and maintenance of the private systems run by Hana Water Co. and Hana Water Resources, wholly owned subsidiaries of Hana Ranch Partners LLC.
The state Public Utilities Commission authorized a 400 percent water increase to HRP, which worries her “what type of control” would come from the Maui County Water Authority transaction.
There are alternatives to the water authority that have already been in place, such as water catchment systems being used at several community farms in Hana, Carroll said.
East Maui “cannot have housing or farms without water,” she added.
Sinenci argued that running, maintaining and staffing the system won’t cost taxpayers because it would be supported by a water rights revolving fund. The state has also told the county that it would give them the water for free, he said.
“We’re also adding grant writers within the water authority so we can go after a lot of the infrastructure monies that are available to fixing water systems. Communities across the country have used federal funding to update and monitor all of their old, 100-year-old systems,” he said. “With all the challenges of climate change, the continued drought conditions, population growth, we want to expand our agriculture and get cheap agriculture rates.
“We want to see agriculture succeed on the island and so we’re hoping we can work with (farmers and businesses) and help to get a better delivery of water to them as well.”
The county has already been working with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Commission on Water Resource Management to make the transition smoother should the charter amendment succeed.
“We have the capacity to manage the system and have all the expertise with the current and past workers of the system,” he said. “We are ready to go and keep water flowing.”
Carroll and Sinenci both agreed that it’s about finding a balance between supporting the visitor industry to boost the economy without negatively impacting East Maui residents’ quality of life and the environment.
It’s about being “good stewards and good hosts” at the same time, Sinenci said.
He added that he would like to see more traffic delineators added to the ones that the state Department of Transportation installed on Hana Highway to mitigate illegal and unsafe parking on the highway and near single lane bridges.
Since the Haiku side of Hana Highway is under state jurisdiction, while the Ulupalakua side is under county control, the council is limited on what they can do with the Road to Hana.
However, Sinenci said that the community is working with the Maui Visitors Bureau and Hana Highway Regulation in possibly hiring locals to help manage traffic in congested areas “in case it gets really bad to the point where public safety, and even access, is disrupted.”
As a liaison for East Maui in the Mayor’s Office, Carroll said they’ve already been working to address “over-tourism” concerns in the office and with Hawaii Tourism Authority by starting a pilot program this winter that focuses on education.
“Eighty percent of our community relies on visitors, so it’s education and awareness and not only visitors, and when we say visitors, we should pertain to anyone who does not live within East Maui,” she said.
Reservation systems, such as the one placed at Waianapanapa State Park, helped to ease traffic and open parking opportunities for Hawaii residents to enjoy the beaches, she said.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.