Wetlands Restoration Plan Clogged

Former aquaculture facility waiting to hear if council will grant permission to begin restoration work.

Christy and Desmond Manaba explain their case to the Molokai Planning Commission for restoring the wetlands at Kalaeloa, Mana`e.

By Zalina Alvi

Members of the Molokai Planning Commission (MPC) have until Aug. 22 to decide whether to allow Desmond and Christy Manaba of D&J Ocean Farms, an aquaculture facility, to begin restoration work on their former property at Kalaeloa, Mana`e.

The Manabas are trying to be granted an exemption for a Special Management Area (SMA) major permit for the wetlands area where they once bred ogo, shrimp and tilapia. They have been ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on several occasions over the last few years to restore the wetlands by removing soil and other fill on the property that resulted from the creation a new channel for the Keawuni stream while they were leasing land for their farms.

Although the Manabas no longer lease the area, the EPA is holding them responsible for its restoration. Now, Christy and Desmond are waiting for the MPC to allow them to begin work.

What Needs to Be Done
The work will involve the restoration of 0.60 acres of wetlands that includes re-vegetation, the removal of sidecasting material in 0.25 acres, minor trenching for electrical repairs, the replacement of a drainage pipe “T,” and removal of mud from harvest boxes, all of which has been outlined in the restoration plan ordered by the EPA.

Nancy McPherson, staff planner for Molokai, recommended the exemption to the council as the restoration plan has already passed an environmental assessment and will have only “positive and beneficial” effects.

The project is valued at just over $70,000, but will not take more than one week to do, according to Christy, pending a two-week notice to the EPA. The Manabas have said they are ready to begin work immediately.

All work will be monitored by the EPA through a yearly report for a period of five years. Christy assured the council that they would be responsible for any required permits, including one from the county for the removal of the materials, and a Flood Development Permit.

The Manabas explained that the process to restore the area has taken about six years. The majority of the time, they have been in negotiations with the landowner and the Manabas’ former landlord, Bishop Estates, over whose kuleana it is to restore the land.

Road Blocks
Concern from the council over granting the exemption came in two forms.

Many of the council members looked for reassurance that the project would not result in more development of the area. McPherson’s report on the project, however, cited a county determination that the restoration plan was deemed “not development,” under the Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Act and the SMA rules for Molokai.

The other concern came from council member Bill Feeter who felt a visit to the site was needed in order to “better improve our judgment.” Any visit would have to be arranged with Bishop Estates, as well as the current leasee, and would have to be open to the public. But the suggestion did not pass a vote of the council, and therefore no visit will be made.

Several members of the public at the meeting were quick to mention past violations of environmental acts and rules by D&J Ocean Farms, many were happy to see Christy and Desmond ready to accept their kuleana to the land.

A Looming Deadline
As of the July 23 meeting, the council has 30 days to make a decision on the exemption. However, if they are not able to reach a consensus by the deadline – which may happen if they are not able to get five votes either way – the exemption will automatically be granted and the Manabas will be able to begin work. No vote was reached on July 23, so the issue has been deferred to the next meeting on Aug. 12.

Other issues deferred to the mid-August meeting include a possible letter to the Department of Land and Natural Resources on behalf of the council on the issue of jet skis in the waters around Molokai.

Anyone who would like to participate and share their mana`o on either issue is encouraged to attend. Meetings take place in the Mitchell Pauole Center at 12:30 p.m.

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