Community asked to help protect the Olowalu reef, home to some of Hawaii’s oldest corals, by speaking up against a proposed large housing project

Maui Nui Marine Resource Council is asking community members to help protect the Olowalu reef, home to some of Hawaii’s oldest corals, by speaking up against a proposed large housing project of 40 homes plus 19 lots for homes on nearly 30 acres of land adjacent to the reef.

Please testify at the Maui County Council’s Affordable Housing Committee meeting:

When: Weds. Sept. 23 at 1:30 pm.

Where: The meeting will be held online only.

How to testify:
By phone: Call 408-915-6290 and entering meeting code 798 867 277

By video:

Please state that you support “DISAPPROVING THE INDEPENDENT DEVELOPMENT OF THE LIHAU‘ULA WORKFORCE HOUSING PROJECT PURSUANT TO SECTION 201H-38, HAWAII REVISED STATUTES.” The purpose of the proposed resolution is to disapprove the proposed project.



Maui’s Olowalu reef is a one thousand-acre coral reef that was designated a priority for protection in the Maui Coral Reef Recovery Plan, a document created by some of Hawaii’s top coral reef biologists. The reef is home to the largest known manta ray population in the United States and has some of the oldest coral in the main Hawaiian Islands. The Olowalu reef also acts as a coral nursery to replenish and populate the reefs of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Over the years, large-scale landowners have sought to urbanize and develop the land adjacent to this unique reef, even though there are no municipal sewer lines to this area and the main road in this area, the Honoapi’ilani Highway, is already overly congested with excessive traffic. Developers have recently adopted the approach of proposing numerous small developments rather than larger developments for this area. The end result will be the same – more development than this environmentally fragile area can safely accommodate.

About Lihau’ula:
This proposed development, named Lihau’ula, would result in the construction of 40 homes and the sale of 19 lots for additional home construction. The Lihau’ula development is described as “workforce housing” but 70% of the homes will be priced at over $600,000 (requiring incomes of over $100,000 per year) which is not considered affordable.

The homes would each rely upon individual private wastewater treatment systems. We believe these may be Aeration Treatment Units (ATUs). Unfortunately, ATUs are costly to install and require regular maintenance – another expense that the homeowner needs to bear. Failure to provide this maintenance will result in a drop in the treatment quality or failure of the unit. This is not a good choice for affordable housing, especially housing located near the Olowalu Reef.

The result of using septic systems or ATUs will be more nitrogen leaching into the nearshore waters of Olowalu. Excess nitrogen in these ocean waters will be harmful to the Olowalu reef, causing overgrowths of invasive algae that block the sunlight that the corals need to produce food for themselves.

Adding development to this area would result in applications of pesticides, chemicals and synthetic fertilizers by landowners and homeowners which would also likely flow into the nearshore ocean waters.

The Olowalu reef is already stressed.  Nearly 50% of the reef suffered bleaching in 2015, and some of its oldest coral is nearly 90% dead. Sighting rates for manta rays have dropped by 90% in the past 10 years. Why add additional stressors to the reef, when there are far more suitable locations for workplace and high-end housing?

The residents of these homes would need to drive on the already congested Honoapi’ilani Highway to travel to work, shopping, school, plus hospital and medical care. Adding housing that could easily result in 100 or more cars each day entering and departing from the highway in Olowalu will only compound the traffic issues and compromise safety in this area. Affordable housing should be built closer to the existing towns of Lahaina to encourage more sustainable, car-free modes of travel.

In addition, dense housing should not be built along the Honoapiʻilani Highway between Ukumehame and Olowalu due to the frequency of coastal flooding of the highway and resulting debris overtopping of the road. With climate change and rising sea level rise, this regular flooding is occurring more frequently. This highway between Ukumehame and Olowalu is forecast to be inundated by frequent flooding by 2030, with just a projected .5 feet of sea level rise. (PacIOOS Hawaii Sea Level Rise Viewer).

For the safety of the residents of West Maui, whose access to critical infrastructure (hospital, airport, harbor and stores) when the Honoapiʻilani Highway floods, the Maui County Council and the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation needs to first finalize plans for how and where the Honoapiʻilani Highway would be moved inland before any development occurs in this corridor between the ocean and the mountains.

Maui Nui Marine Resource Council supports affordable and workplace housing – in areas where such housing can be clustered in and around an existing town, to provide easy access to essential services and stores.

For all of the reasons cited above, we oppose the proposed Lihau’ula development in Olowalu.




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