Maui County Council members heard testimony opposing the Maui Island Plan on Tuesday, a prelude of battles to be fought later.
Tuesday's special meeting was a procedural step for the full council to accept the General Plan Committee's report on the plan, to approve scheduling a public hearing and to schedule the measure for first reading before the full council.
First reading is set for Dec. 7 and second reading on Dec. 21. The council has a Dec. 31 deadline for taking action. A public hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Irene Bowie was among several testifiers to ask council members to schedule the upcoming public hearing in the evening to allow people who work during the day to attend.
"With the many recent changes put into the plan, our community deserves a chance to have their voices heard and also learn firsthand what is in this last version of the plan," she said.
Bowie noted that protection areas are not receiving enough protection in the plan as recommended by the council committee.
"Maui Tomorrow has great concern that any commitment to greenways, green belts, parks and preservation areas will fade once developers become interested in those areas," she said. "Please make the protection area designation meaningful as part of a sensible and complete long-range plan for Maui."
Council members listened to a number of testifiers who oppose inclusion of the master-planned Olowalu Town project in the plan's urban and rural growth boundaries.
Sarah McLane, executive director of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, said no urban development should be allowed at Olowalu because the area has one of the island's few healthy reefs.
She said that marine researchers have studied coral propagation at Olowalu's reef and found that when the reef spawns currents carry fertilized eggs for new reefs from Honolua Bay in West Maui to the south shore of Molokai and the north coast of Lanai.
"If Olowalu goes, that would affect the ability of other reefs to grow and propagate," she said.
Mark Deakos, president and chief scientist with the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, said Olowalu's waters have "the largest and healthiest coral reef system remaining in Maui."
The Olowalu reef is home to more than 350 manta rays, is one of the few black-tip shark nurseries in the state and is the largest of only two remaining Maui reefs with more than 50 percent live coral cover, he said.
The reef helps generate white sand and has some of the largest, old-coral growths in the state, some more than 500 years old, 40 feet thick and in excess of 23 feet in diameter, he said.
"If there is one thing that history has shown us in Maui is the devastation coastal development can have on the adjacent coral reef system," Deakos said. "A proposal to build 1,500 new homes and over 4,000 new residents on the Olowalu watershed directly uphill from the Olowalu reef is very likely to cause us to lose our last, remaining healthy reef."
Olowalu Town LLC project developer Bill Frampton said council members have heard a lot of "incorrect and false" information about the project.
After the meeting, he said developers have been committed to the protection of the reef since the inception of the project.
"Residents who have lived there for generations told us and taught us about the reef, how complex and how beautiful it is," Frampton said.
He acknowledged that whatever happens mauka "will greatly affect what happens makai."
Project developers learned about the reef from longtime Olowalu families and hired consultant Brown and Caldwell as natural resource engineers to design an integrated resource management plan, he said.
That plan calls for not having an injection well for wastewater, he said. Instead, that water would be treated as an asset, not a liability, and be recycled for landscape irrigation. Likewise, storm water runoff would be captured and retained in basins, natural ponding areas and urban gardens.
"We know the reef is special," Frampton said. "It demands special attention. We believe, in the end, we can coexist with nature. . . . We're talking about a new way to build and grow on Maui."
Frampton said that under current conditions, where former sugar cane land remains fallow in Olowalu, storm runoff has and will continue to degrade the reef. Also, the close proximity of Honoapiilani Highway pollutes the ocean with runoff, he said. Project plans call for moving the highway further inland.
"Today's existing conditions are resulting in decline in that reef," he said. "Studies show that the measures we are going to take that focus on preservation and protection will greatly improve today's conditions."
McLane said that it can't be guaranteed that the developers of Olowalu Town, despite their best intentions, would eventually go through with their plans. If the area were put in an urban designation, then another developer could build homes, businesses or even a mega-mall, she said.
Of the project's 1,500 housing units, 750 would be set aside for affordable housing. Plans also call for a town center, parks and areas for public facilities such as a school, a post office and emergency services. A quarter of the project would be reserved for agricultural use and open space.
Council Chairman Danny Mateo said that council staff would consider holding a public hearing on the Maui Island Plan in the evening but said he anticipates "a very long process and a lot of public testimony" that will take the hearing well into the evening.
Earlier, Council Member Gladys Baisa, chairwoman of the General Plan Committee, said that her panel already has met more than 50 times on the Maui Island Plan and held public meetings on the draft Maui Island Plan in Lahaina, Haiku, Pukalani, Kihei and Hana.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.