HONOLULU (KHON2) — Damage to wells and the status of permits in West Maui were among topics today before the state agency that oversees water. But the marathon hearing focused largely on calls to reinstate a deputy director sidelined just after the fires.
According to the Commission on Water Resource Management, two out of a dozen wells in the Lahaina fire zone are damaged.
It’s still not clear the integrity of the wellheads.
But in a meeting that ran from morning well in to the night, dozens testified about upholding and enforcing stream flow standards and calling on the DLNR to reinstate Deputy Director Kaleo Manuel. He was reassigned days after the fire after a private company’s request to divert water to their reservoir on Aug. 8.
“We understand all the false pretenses about somehow his actions inhibiting the ability to fight fire are completely false,” said Dr. Kamana Beamer, a water expert and former CWRM commissioner. “I sat on that commission with each of you. You know his integrity, you know how hard that man worked for us and for Hawaii, for our water.”
“This is a terrible, egregious act,” Beamer said. “Kaleo cannot be a fall-person.”
DLNR Chairperson Dawn Chang says it was her call, not the commission’s, to reassign Manuel, whom she praised.
“Kaleo has brought that equity back, he has given voice to those that have not otherwise been heard in the water commission,” Chang said. “He has been deployed to the State Historic Preservation Division out of his choice and mutually agreed upon.”
“Out of his choice?” testifier Isaac Moriwake from Earthjustice asked.
“The choice of where he’d like to go,” Chang said.
“His choice would be to stay on the commission,” Moriwake said.
“You are right, his choice is to be back as the deputy, but given the circumstances, that was the discussion,” Chang said.
Commissioner Aurora Kagawa-Viviani spoke out on Manuel’s behalf.
“When I was forwarded some of the correspondence it was alarming and concerning, and it shook me,” Kagawa-Viviani said. “Now I’d like to speak up and say we can make bad decisions in the heat of the moment. We can also rectify them and I appreciate giving room to rectifying it.”
The agency also revealed it is holding off approvals on new and renewing water permits in West Maui until more is known about who was impacted by the fires. The water code was suspended, as related to firefighting needs, by emergency proclamations for about a month after the fire, but was reinstated recently.
“Follow the law,” said West Maui resident Hokuao Pellegrino. “While they may not want you to do this, state’s water code is the backbone of this commission and provides all of Hawaii everything we need to ensure our public trust resources are shared equally.”
As the meeting started to wrap up after 12 hours, past 9 p.m., commissioners lamented that it would be pointless to put Manuel’s reinstatement on a future agenda, because the attorney general has advised it’s the chair’s call alone. Several commissioners implored Chang to “do the right thing.”
“I can never imagine how difficult this has been for him…to be personally attacked and not be able to say anything,” Chang said in closing. “I have heard every single person who has spoken today… I recognize something has to happen before October when we go to Maui. I don’t know what that decision is going to be, but I recognize something needs to be done.”