HC&S Myths

Cane Fire Starts at 6:30am June 16, 2012

Myth #1:  If we stop cane burning, the central valley will be paved over with development

A) A&B (the company that operates as HC&S) is primarily a real estate development company. If you’ve noticed over the last few decades, A&B has been converting cane fields to development as fast as the economy can absorb them. Just recently A&B Business Park has replaced cane and there are plans to extend Ku’au Bayview east towards Ho’okipa.

Growing cane does not stop or slow development in the slightest. Development is the main source of revenue and income for A&B.

B) Stopping burning does not mean that cane cannot be harvested. Most places in the world harvest cane without burning. And for most of Hawai’i history, cane was harvested without burning.

The mill makes extra money by burning coal in its mill and selling the electricity to MECO. By burning coal in an agricultural mill and occasionally mixing it with bagasse, A&B has not been required to comply with pollution control standards that apply to all other coal burning power plants in the United States.

Recent developments have cut the profit from burning coal and selling power to MECO so that it isn’t enough to keep A&B in the sugar business.

In 2009, A&B began serious consideration of getting out of the sugar business. Prices of raw sugar have remained stable over the years because of price supports and restriction of foreign importation of sugar into the US. As they considered ending sugar operations, the world price spiked due to tight supply of sugar and A&B reconsidered. For the subsequent years, it has turned a average $10 million net profit in its agricultural sector.

However, after a several year spike, raw sugar prices have returned to their historic and consistent levels which A&B has previously decided would be sufficient reason to exit the sugar business.

A&B has noted that equipment accidents or failures “in the factor or power plant” are significant risks because the equipment is old and difficult to repair or replace. A&B has not invested in maintaining and upgrading its operations in a consistent manner. Any significant upgrades to its equipment and facilities would require long term commitment to growing cane which A&B is not prepared to make.

C) A&B cannot develop their ag land unless the County Council and the State Land Use Commission grant their request to upzone the property to urban, commercial or industrial.  It is not A&B who controls whether the central valley is developed – it is our elected officials – who unfortunately have been giving A&B anything they ask for.  It is not cane burning, but better councilmembers who will keep the central valley from being developed.

D) Prime Ag Land should be used to grow food – not for development. Over 27,000 acres of A&B agricultural land has been designated Important Agricultural Land which protects those lands from being converted into urban or other non-agricultural uses. Maui imports more than 90% of our food and this is a security risk.

Myth #2: If cane isn’t grown, the land will be dry and dusty.

A) We always get a laugh out of this one as A&B’s terrible agricultural practices and the way their tilling blows dust onto the reefs and obscures Haleakala are the subject of concern that ranks higher with the EPA than does their burning.

Fugitive Dust generated from HC&S cane field tilling 8/31/2012

Think this photo is of smoke? Nope. It is blowing topsoil from HC&S tilling.

As a landowner, A&B has a legal obligation to prevent fugitive dust from harming downwind neighbors. The only reason it has not been sued by those harmed by its fugitive dust is because the legislative has passed several laws over the years that has removed individuals’ right to sue companies like A&B for the damages they cause.

People have lived in South Maui for hundreds of years before Alexander & Baldwin or Claus Spreckels began growing sugar in Central Maui. Historical incidents of fugitive dust in the 19th century occurred because of the widespread destruction of native ecosystems and habitats that developed over hundreds of thousands of years.

B) Check out the area by Ma’alaea which used to be cane and is now fallow.  See any dust?  Nope.  No dust.  There will be LESS dust without HC&S’s agricultural tilling.  This is also an argument for no-burn harvesting which only requires replanting every 6 years rather than every other year and thus generates only one-third the dust. Before cane was burned in Hawaii, cane was only replanted about once a decade and instead relied on the long-standing practice of ratooning.

Myth #3: 750 people will lose their jobs.

A&B has never identified how it has arrived at this number. Do these numbers includes all of what it’s accountants define as its “agricultural operations” such as its subsidiary Kahului Trucking or its leased coffee farms on Kauai?

But even so, it does not appear A&B itself has a long term plan for its 750 workers. Instead, it uses threat of job losses as a shield from calls to adequate oversight and as a sword when attempts to oversee or regulate their harmful practices are effective.

The truth is that cane burning and other air pollution problems with cane production in Hawaii have a substantial negative impact on worker health.

A&B should reveal its long term plans with respect to cane operations so that the State and County can plan to ensure that workers, their families and the community as a whole do not suffer disruptions caused by A&B’s decision that its workers are a liability and not an asset and that A&B’s bottom line is better without the workers.



  • Kenneth Peters

    The main argument with the local people who are “born and raised here” is that the sugar cane company employs 800 people and that they could lose their jobs. Somebody needs to do some research on how many of these 800 people were born and raised here and how many people are here from other countries. Also, does HC&S use E-Verify to verify if the immigrants from other countries are legally working here?
    My guess is that the majority of workers at HC&S were NOT born and raised on Maui.

  • Doug Sage

    My wife has had a double lung transplant from the UW Medical Center and we spend a month or two on Maui each year. Yes, we are not residents and yes we don’t have to come to Maui and neither do our friends and acquaintances. But we love the island and choose to come, for now. My wife has to wear a mask when the cane fields are buring because the smoke does not contain just pure cane (not that that is okay for her or any healthy lung), but other objects and chemical compounds too. We need to keep Maui green, but not use outdated practices that do harm people. It does require us to lock ourselves into our home, turn on the air conditioner, which we otherwise never use, and not spend money as freely within the vicinity of our home.