WEATHER, IRAQ GRAB MAUI HEADLINES IN 2004

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WAILUKU, Maui (The Maui News, Jan. 2) – It was a year of heavy weather and heavy demands on several hundred Maui families that have loved ones in the military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But 2004 had its highs as well, with a Haiku teen, Camile Velasco, making it to the top nine in the "American Idol" singing competition; a communitywide volunteer effort completing the Kalakupua Playground in Haiku; the Haleakala summit winning the top rating in an international competition for a $100 million solar observatory; hundreds of sea turtles hatching on Maui beaches; and, as the year drew to a close, the residents of Kalaupapa learning that Mother Marianne Cope would be beatified – the next-to-last step to sainthood.

The top news stories of 2004 in Maui County are detailed in today’s newspaper. But there were many stories through the year.

The year opened with a rainstorm and is ending with one, washing out years of drier-than-normal conditions that left fields parched and had the leeward slopes of East and West Maui turning a dingy mix of yellows and browns.

But if the series of rainstorms sweeping the county kept the mountainsides green, the rains also washed out roads, leaving Kaupakalua Road cut in half for three months, and staining the ocean red for weeks at a time.

For Maui police, the year began with deadly confrontations. In January and February, officers killed a 27-year-old woman and a 42-year-old man in cases that remain under investigation.

Officers also were near-victims in a shooting incident in May when a Los Angeles man allegedly fired two shots at a group of off-duty police officers at Kalama Park.

Possibly the most bizarre incident occurred Feb. 29, when a Haiku man reportedly suffering from depression drove his SUV into the Kahului Airport terminal and set it on fire with three cans full of gasoline in the back.

Police can take pride in their role in a federal drug investigation that shut down a major crystal methamphetamine operation on Maui with 16 people indicted in Hawaii and on the Mainland. But the 22-month investigation also highlighted one of the difficulties Hawaii police face in trying to crack down on crime – the wiretaps that federal agents could use in their investigation cannot be admitted in state courts because of conditions imposed in state law.

Police acquired Taser stun guns for a pilot program to determine whether the electroshock weapons were a viable alternative to use of firearms, while a continuing crackdown on seat-belt use pushed Maui County drivers to better than 90 percent compliance. But police also investigated one of their own when a patrol officer, Aaron Won, was accused in August of soliciting a sex act from a woman he had stopped for an expired vehicle registration. Won was found guilty in a jury trial in December of attempted sex assault, extortion and unlawful imprisonment. He awaits sentencing.

Another law enforcement official also was in the news in 2004 for sexual misconduct. Former Maui Community Correctional Center Administrator Albert Murashige was sentenced in June to a year in jail after he pleaded no contest to four counts of sexual assault against a female inmate. Murashige was subsequently named in a lawsuit alleging additional sex assaults involving another inmate.

Land-use and planning issues occupied the Maui County Council through the year, with soaring real estate prices and long lines of applicants for new projects underscoring the need for housing. The median price for a home in Maui County soared to well over $700,000 by year’s close.

But even when projects offered affordable housing, there were delays and disputes.

The much debated Pu’unoa Village affordable housing project, rejected in 2003, was rejected again in 2004. A 410-house project planned by Spencer Homes in Waikapu, with 215 to be affordably priced, drew 3,000 applicants but it took most of two years to gain final approval from the county administration, council and state Land Use Commission.

The West Maui Breakers condominium project, offering 60 to 80 affordable units, also was approved but faced objections over its location and impact of added traffic in the Honokowai area.

Another long-running land-use dispute was settled when the Maui Planning Commission approved a special permit for the Hale O Kaula Church to build a church sanctuary on its 5-acre property in Pukalani, while the county’s insurance carrier agreed to a $700,000 payment for the church to withdraw a civil suit in federal court alleging discrimination.

In a presidential election year, Maui was more than just a nice place to visit for Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, whose repeat visits to the Valley Isle won him eight delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Kucinich may have inspired independent candidate Ralph Nader, who also made a campaign stop on Maui.

The heated presidential race had an impact on local races, as Hawaii went strongly for the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards, who were edged in the national polling by President Bush. But the voter turnout for Kerry-Edwards may have been a factor in several Republican incumbent legislators around Hawaii losing their bids for re-election, including Upcountry Rep. Kika Bukoski and West Maui Rep. Brian Blundell.

A Democrat who did not succeed still raised an intriguing controversy. Cort Gallup insisted that he was a U.S. citizen as a Native American, although he was born in Canada. He was ruled not eligible too late to be removed from the ballot, but the issue was rendered moot – for 2004 at least – when he trailed incumbent Chris Halford by 1,883 votes.

Most County Council members were returned to office, with only maverick Wayne Nishiki blocked by the five-term limit. But voters selected Nishiki’s designated successor, aide Michelle Anderson, to fill the South Maui council seat.

Mayor Alan Arakawa was not up for re-election in 2004, which allowed him more time to wrestle with a number of issues. He was a critical opponent of the rejected Pu’unoa Village, disputing its affordable housing component, and in turn was challenged over the standards his administration set for the Spencer Homes affordable housing project in Waikapu.

In his State of the County address in February, Arakawa listed as one of his goals the use of surface water from streams in the Wailuku watershed, but found a community group objecting when the county moved to increase its use of water from the plantation ditch system. Hui O Na Wai ’Eha filed petitions objecting to continued diversion of water from the four streams of Waihee, Waiehu, Iao and Waikapu when the water is no longer being used for sugar fields.

Arakawa also wrestled with the growing problem of trash, especially old cars and appliances. In May, the county set up a program for owners to turn in their old cars for free to keep irresponsible owners from abandoning their vehicles on roadsides. But by August, the county had to stop the program as derelicts accumulated on an unpermitted site.

The county continued to struggle with getting permits to open the next phase of the Central Maui Landfill, whose construction began without state Health Department approval of the design.

But the county administration took steps that appeared to resolve complaints from Upcountry homeowners who said a chemical used to block lead contamination in their drinking water was causing skin irritation.

A helicopter air ambulance funded by the state and county went into service. A Lahaina surfer was killed in a shark attack, while an Oahu diver survived a shark attack off Molokai – and was speeded to the hospital by the new air ambulance.

But those stories were last year’s. This year’s stories begin today.

January 3, 2004

The Maui News: www.mauinews.com

 

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