The Maui County Council's General Plan Committee is reviewing the Maui Island Plan, an important piece of legislation that will shape the future of our community for decades to come. For the first time, the Maui Island Plan establishes a managed and directed growth strategy that will accommodate future growth in a way that protects the island's natural and cultural resources and enhances already developed areas.
Part of the purpose of the proposed directed growth strategy is to ensure that Maui's unique and fragile natural resources are protected by identifying preservation areas, parks, greenways, green belts and sensitive lands.
Throughout the committee's review of the Maui Island Plan, I have advocated strongly for the preservation of open space throughout the island, particularly along our scenic corridors. However, the committee must proceed cautiously when designating such areas, to avoid taking property from landowners without paying a fair price for it.
One of the basic tenants of American law is that government may not take private property for public use without just compensation. It would be unconstitutional to require individual landowners to bear the cost of protecting Maui's natural resources without being fairly compensated. If Maui's unique and sensitive resources are to be protected for public use, then the public should bear the cost.
On Aug. 2, I, along with Committee Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, Council Chairman Danny Mateo and Council Members Michael Victorino and Joseph Pontanilla, voted to only designate the immediate coastline at Lipoa Point and the Honolua Bay area as preservation areas. We voted to leave the other 139 acres at Lipoa Point, owned by Maui Land & Pineapple Co., out of preservation. A preservation designation would have diminished the value of the property, jeopardizing the pensions of more than 1,600 retirees of ML&P.
The financial difficulties facing ML&P are well documented. Due to economic conditions, ML&P stopped pineapple operations in 2009 and was forced to lay off workers. Because of the reduction in active employee participation in the pension plan, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. required that ML&P provide security of approximately $5.2 million to support the unfunded liabilities of the plan. In April 2011, the company posted approximately 1,400 acres in West Maui as collateral to satisfy the PBGC requirement, and the land remains collateralized today.
When the company ended its golf operations in March 2011, the loss of additional active employees participating in the pension plan triggered the PBGC to require ML&P to provide additional security of approximately $18.7 million. Without any other lands available of the same value required by the PBGC, ML&P is relying on Lipoa Point and more than 5,300 acres mauka of Honolua to secure the additional unfunded retirement liability.
If all of the land at Lipoa Point were designated as a preservation area, the market value would dramatically decrease and likely force ML&P into default with PBGC. Once in default, many ML&P pensioners could lose the value of their pension benefits. Additionally, such action could result in costly litigation for taxpayers when the county has to defend itself against an allegation that it took private property for public use without just compensation.
My vote on Aug. 2 was not a vote in favor of developing Lipoa Point; it was a vote to protect thousands of ML&P retirees, our fellow citizens. I don't want to see Lipoa Point developed. I agree that Lipoa Point is culturally, historically and environmentally significant to the residents and visitors of Maui, and it should be protected. However, protection must be done strategically, fairly and in a reasonable manner that will not impact the lives of innocent retirees and their families.
Since 2007, the mayor and council have consistently pledged $1 million for the acquisition of land at Lipoa Point. The county, however, is only one of many partners. Cooperation between the county, state and federal governments, in addition to community groups, is the key to ensuring the preservation of Lipoa Point in perpetuity. I will continue to support the effort to preserve Lipoa Point for future generations, and I encourage the community and my colleagues at the state and federal levels to come together and do the same.
* Maui County Council Member Mike White holds the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat. He is up for re-election in November and is unopposed.