Myth: Cane Burning/Dust Existed in Kihei Before People

One myth that is constantly recycled by supporters of air pollution on Maui is that cane burning and fugitive dust from cane operations have been a fixture of Kihei from time immemorial and that residential development came much later in time.

But actually that is not true. After the formal merger of HC&S and A&B in the early 1960s, thousands of acres of land south of the Puunene mill, including the area around the old Puunene airport and southward toward Kihei, slowly began to be cleared and  planted in sugar. Residents at that time complained loudly about the fugitive dust caused by the clearing of the land of rocks and planting this marginal land in sugar.

At the same time, many of our local elected and appointed public officials were investors in land development companies that owned and were developing much of what we call Kihei, Wailea and Makena today. The resulting conflict between incompatible land uses in close proximity was just someone else’s problem.

As Cooper and Daws noted in Land and Power in Hawaii:

Looking at the entire coast from Maalaea to Makena, almost everybody who was anybody in the new power structure took part, everybody from mayors of Maui to men who ran illegal gambling on the island, from small local-Japanese contractors to one of Japan’s biggest corporations, from the old Big Five firm of Alexander & Baldwin to the leaders of the Democratic Party.

Nowhere else on the outer islands were so many relatively small parcels of land available for sale in an area so desirable for development.

The fact that Kihei had room for “small” people to get in on development alongside the big names might have been a factor in heavy suport by county and state government for growth at Kihei.

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This was the balance sheet on Kihei – it might have been badly handled from a planning point of view, but it was well timed and profitable for a great many local people in the Democratic years. One of Maui’s major political figures, looking at both sides of the balance sheet, once described Kihei as a “necessary evil.”

For example, on page 9 of the May 31, 1969 edition of the Maui News, there is a brief notice that describes the conversion of Puunene land into cane fields (Puunene Airport Land Converted Into Cane Fields) next to a short article regarding ongoing residential development in Kihei (Hale Kai o Kihei: First Condominium in Kihei Blessed).

Meyer Ueoka

Meyer Ueoka

Hale Kai o Kihei is an interesting case study. The opening ceremonies were conducted by Meyer Ueoka. An attorney who represented developers before government agencies, he also served as a district court magistrate, a delegate to the 1968 Constitutional Convention and served on the Board of Education (both elected and appointed to fill a vacancy). He was an investor in Ma-Ka-Poi Ventures, Maui Shores Sydnicate, Ueoka Hui, Mana-Kai-Maui Hotel Association, F&D Hui, D&L Venture, Five Man Hui, The Ouli Investment Ltd Partnerhsip, Nine Man Hui, Ueoka Two Man Hui, Kihei Properties, Akina II, Akina III, and Hawaii Omori Corp. among others.

Mayor Elmer Cravalho

Mayor Elmer Cravalho

Mayor Elmer Cravalho was also on hand to break the maile lei for Hale Kai o Kihei. The Tings were the developers of the project, but MDG Supply Inc., was providing the interim financing for the project. Cravalho was a major shareholder of MDG Supply. MDG Supply invested in resort land in Kihei and Makena, had a building materials department and providing financing to developments in the region.

In opposing Department of Health proposed clean air rules a few years later, Mayor Cravalho said, “Clear air is important … but it should not be obtained at the expense of jobs for our people or termination of industries historically and presently vital to our neighbor island way of life.” (Jan 13, 1972)

Cane operations near Kihei did not precede residential development in Kihei. Cane planting near Kihei began at the same time that residential development began.

Twenty years later, in 1987, concerns were raised by the Department of Health saying it was “imperative” to inform prospective buyers of the new subdivision about the potential for cane smoke and dust in the Kihei area on a permit request for the proposed Maui Kaiola Estates subdivision in Kihei.

Toshio Ansai

Toshio Ansai

Then Maui Planning Commission member Toshio Ansai – a former County Supervisor, territorial and state senator and County Council member – questioned whether it was proper for the Maui Planning Commission to require such information in the sale. Ansai was typical of the politicians of the period. In addition to being an elected official, Ansai was also an investor with Town Construction Co, Tara Hui and Makena Beach Investors.

It is a myth that cane burning operations preceded residential development in Kihei. Land north of Kihei was being converted into cane fields at the same time that Kihei began to be developed for residential living.

People who live in Kihei are living with the decisions of public officials who all profited from the residential development build up that happened at the same time that A&B was converting land to cane operations in South Maui. At the same time that these conflicting uses of land were being developed, the same public officials opposed tighter regulation of air pollution or requiring disclosure of cane burning activities in nearby areas to new residents.