Well offers chance to clear most of meter waiting list

WAILUKU – Maui County will be offered a chance Tuesday to buy a water well in Makawao that could make deep inroads into the Upcountry meter waiting list.

The well, known as Piiholo South, already exists, and it has been tested to produce 1.7 million gallons per day of water pure enough to drink without further treatment, according to Zachary Franks and Cynthia Warner, the developers.

But to finance the proposed $8 million price (including infrastructure), the county would likely have to find funds outside the Department of Water Supply. In the past, water source development has been paid for with department funds, not county general funds, supplemented by grants and borrowing through bond sales.

Only recently has the county budget supplemented the finances of the water department, with $1 million for a study of storage in the current budget. But until now, the department has had to pay for its own wells and reservoirs, unless it could get the state to cover the bill, as it did with the Kahakapao reservoirs.

The County Council Water Resources Committee will take up the issue during a meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers. Panel Chairman Mike Victorino said discussion of the matter would be preliminary.

“The focus of the committee meeting will be simply to gather information,” he said. “But there is possible public use of this privately owned well, and I’m eager to explore this potential.”

In a way, the well exists because of previous council decisions. A hui of 25 people, with Franks and Warner as their development managers, bought 325 acres adjacent to St. Joseph Church with the intention of creating a senior housing and low-density residential project and gardens.

When the council passed the “Show Me the Water” bill, the hui, Piiholo South LLC, went out and drilled a well to be able to show that it had water for its development. Originally, the group had intended to apply for county water meters.

The developers spent $3.75 million for the well, and unlike the Maui Land & Pineapple Co. well just a quarter of a mile away, this one was a gusher.

That is one part of the group’s sales pitch: Hitting water, even in East Maui, is not a sure thing.

To make the well useful to the Department of Water Supply, another $4.25 million would need to be spent to connect the new water supply with the Upcountry domestic water storage and transmission system. Infrastructure needed would include a pipeline to the county’s Pookela Tank, improvements to the capacity of half a mile of transmission line along Olinda Road to the Olinda Water Treatment Plant and construction of a 225,000-gallon tank.

Piiholo South would build the infrastructure, and the $8 million suggested price would allow the hui to recover its costs, with “a small profit,” Warner said.

Water Director Jeff Eng said it would be premature for him to speak of the offer because he does not know the details. But he said there had been no study by his department to determine what infrastructure would be required to meld the well into the county system.

And he would want more extensive testing. The private testing was done on a 96-hour run, which Eng said would be “the minimum” to determine the output and quality of a well.

At its maximum output, the well could service about 1,296 meters Upcountry. As part of the deal, Piiholo South would retain approximately 30 meters, sufficient for its own development plans (which no longer include senior housing, because of objections from the church, Franks and Warner said).

Piiholo South would pay for its meters.

From the public’s point of view, the gain would be the ability to make a big inroad into the Upcountry water meter waiting list, almost immediately, Franks said.

Furthermore, using numbers from the department’s Upcountry Water Use and Development Plan, Franks and Warner argue that if the department spent $7 million or $8 million to drill its own well, it would expect only about a million gallons per day. Plus, the delay involved in environmental review.

The county has not taken the initiative to develop new water sources Upcountry, and there’s no prospect of that happening soon, Franks said. Meanwhile, “it leaves the people of Upcountry, who number over 1,300, waiting expectantly for something to happen.”

Franks and Warner are aware that merely offering meters to thirsty Upcountry property owners does not solve their problems. Many, if they were offered a meter, would face a demand from the department to create or improve transmission from the nearest “point of adequacy,” which for some lots could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If an applicant for a water meter is offered one and declines to accept it, he or she is moved to the bottom of the priority list.

At least, though, offering meters would permit hundreds of people who are ready to accept meters to go ahead, creating housing and jobs, Franks said.

The department charges $6,800 for a meter, so 1,200 meters would generate more than $8 million, which is just about the proposed cost of the takeover.

However, those meter charges are allocated three ways, among source development, transmission and storage, so unless the department amended the way it accounts for its meter income, there still wouldn’t be enough money in the right fund to cover the proposed cost.

Eng said the balance in the source development fund is “quite low,” because the department has not been issuing many meters recently to replenish it.

Victorino said he also would need verification of the well’s capacity by the department.

offers chance to clear most of meter waiting list

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