WAILUKU – Hearing passionate pleas for Upcountry water meters, the Maui County Council Water Resources Committee expressed support for an outright purchase of a privately developed well in Makawao that could cost about $8 million.
Committee Chairman Mike Victorino recommended deferral of the issue with a pledge to push for a county report within the next 45 days on the possible purchase of the groundwater well that could lead to water meters for many Upcountry property owners long on a waiting list.
“Outright purchase is what we prefer,” Victorino said, referring to the negotiation of a water source agreement with Piiholo South LLC. “There’s more work to be done, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The County Council adopted a resolution Aug. 6, urging the county administration to acquire a well that, according to developers Zachary Franks and Cynthia Warner, has been tested to produce 1.7 million gallons per day of water pure enough to drink without further treatment.
In a question-and-answer exchange with council members Tuesday, Warner said there had been no formal determination about the county’s interest in buying the well.
“My gut feeling is they’re leaning toward the purchase,” Warner said.
“This is a work in progress,” Department of Water Supply Director Jeff Eng told committee members. County engineers and Piiholo South’s representatives have been reviewing the well and its viability, committee members were told.
If and when a water source agreement is drafted, a proposal would be presented to the County Council prior to final approval, Eng said.
Franks said his company was “just about there” in compiling information on infrastructure required by the county to obtain the water source, but more details are needed.
He said he believed that an arrangement could be reached with the county soon and actual purchase might have to wait until next year when a new county budget is drafted.
Franks emphasized that he and Warner are not in current negotiations for purchase, but rather in discussions with the county and the County Council to gauge interest in their well.
Aside from purchase, other options include keeping the well in private ownership or dedicating a portion of the well’s production to the county.
More than 30 people submitted testimony to the Water Resources Committee. Many of them shared stories of waiting more than 10 years for a water meter and not being able to subdivide property to pass on to children and grandchildren to continue living on Maui.
Former Maui Planning Commission member Bernice Lu, of Kula, said she and her husband sold property held within the family for more than 100 years so they could subdivide lots for children and grandchildren. The family has already invested $200,000 in property improvements and has waited for 10 years now to obtain two water meters.
Lu said she didn’t want to have to wait another decade.
“I ask you to please do something to make this happen,” she said, calling for purchase of the Piiholo South well.
William Abreu, of Haiku, fought back tears as he told of his late father’s hopes to give property to his loved ones so they could build a life Upcountry.
“This is a very sensitive issue for me,” said Abreu, who urged committee members to give a deadline to the water department to act on the well purchase.
Many of the residents speaking up in Council Chambers on Tuesday referred to a county water meter waiting list of about 1,300 people.
William Blietz, of Haiku, wore around his neck a piece of paper with the number 40, to show where he stands on the county meter priority list.
At age 77, Blietz said he’d waited 12 1/2 years and in the last two years has moved from number 42 to 40.
“All I’m trying to do is get a water meter,” he said, advising county officials to obtain an investment consultant and figure out how they can acquire the Piiholo South well.
“Please get it done,” Blietz said.
Kula resident Dick Mayer said water from the new well could be distributed not just to new water meter users, but to consumers in Haiku, Makawao, Pukalani, Kula and Ulupalakua.
He listed numerous questions council members should ask regarding a possible purchase, including what capital improvements would need to be done to get the well working and what kind of financial plan is being offered to purchase and maintain the well.
Mayer also urged the council to study the Upcountry water meter priority list. According to the list provided by Mayer, 43 of the first 80 water meter applicants were for subdivisions totaling approximately 300 acres.
A number of testifiers maintained that water meters should go to small property owners seeking family subdivisions and not large housing developments.