Submitted by the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana
The Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana expresses our deepest aloha to the ʻāina and people of Maui. We offer continuous and focused pule of healing and recovery for the kūpā ʻāina, kamaʻāina, and ʻohana.
A Civil Beat Article published Aug. 15, 2023, entitled “A State Official Refused To Release Water For West Maui Fires Until It Was Too Late,” unfairly and inaccurately blamed then Deputy Director Kaleo Manuel of the Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) for impeding firefighting efforts.
The article gave a public platform to a massive private developer, landowner, and water company conglomerate who exploited this tragedy to fan the flames of emotion that we are all feeling, and attempted to direct our rage at one man who was simply not responsible for the fire nor the spread. The one-sided article became the basis for a decision to re-deploy Manual from his kuleana as deputy director with the CWRM.
Why would they target this one man?
West Maui Land Company, Inc. is a developer of multiple luxury residential projects in West Maui that has contributed to the gentrification of West Maui, raising property values, overtaxing natural resources including streams that supply reservoirs and replenish aquifers, and systemically pushing out longtime kamaʻāina families.
Manuel is the deputy director of an agency that regulates West Maui Land Co.’s use of water which affects how many developments it can build and sustain.
Unfortunately, the developer jumped at the chance to rile up a heartbroken community to remove from office someone who is doing his job to uphold and implement the legislatively enacted State Water Code. This was tantamount to a public lynching of Manuel, a Kanaka ʻŌiwi public servant who has always sought to protect wai as a public trust to be used sustainably by multiple users.
Facts not included in the August 15 Civil Beat article related to events about the August 8 fires include:
- West Maui Land Co. reservoirs are not connected to the Maui County water supply and could not have helped with fire hydrant and hose water pressure.
- Winds were too strong for any helicopters to fly on Aug. 8, 2023. When helicopters did fly on Aug. 9, 2023, they drew water to fight the fire from the much closer and vast ocean.
- Manuel’s instructions for West Maui Land Co. to contact the downstream kalo farmers before diverting stream water to fill their reservoir was because downstream resident farmers have no means other than the stream to fight fires and they lost their homes to fire in 2018.
- There was no detrimental impact as a result of any of Manuel’s actions. The article was a hurtful distraction for our entire Hawaiʻi community at a time when every bit of energy and focus should be directed to helping Maui people and families.
An apology and a retraction of the inflammatory and untrue statements are in order. We are confident that the facts stated above will be revealed through the investigation that the Attorney General and that Manuel will be exonerated. We urgently recommend that Manual be reinstated as the deputy directory assigned to CWRM.