By TIMOTHY HURLEY
KIHEI -- The movement to ban sugar cane burning is a hot topic again, thanks to a new group that has been meeting with fervor since summer.
The Maui Clean Air Coalition has been exploring cane burning alternatives, discussing them with sugar growers, lobbying politicians and gathering information for a possible class-action lawsuit -- all with the aim of ending the traditional harvesting practice.
The group's latest effort is the scheduling of a Nov. 4 meeting at Kihei School billed as an opportunity for Maui residents to tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the problems they have experienced due to cane burning.
The 7 p.m. meeting is being held for the benefit of Fraser Felter, the Hawaii/Nevada liaison for the EPA Western Region Office in San Francisco, who was invited to Maui by the coalition to hear concerns about the problem and to experience the burning firsthand.
In a telephone interview, Felter said he hopes to gain a better understanding of the issues involved in the controversy on Maui.
He said complaints to his office about cane burning have escalated since the formation of the Maui Clean Air Coalition.
In addition to meeting with the anti-cane burning faction, Felter said he plans to visit with Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. officials and possibly view a cane harvest at the company's large Central Maui plantation.
The federal Clean Air Act contains the minimum standards for open-air burning, and the state Health Department is designated by the EPA to enforce those standards.
Felter said his agency is now considering revisions to the Clean Air Act and among the targeted issues is agricultural burning. Final revisions are expected to be adopted in six to eight years.
As for the Nov. 4 meeting, Felter said he would not be there to take formal testimony. Rather, he said, he plans to sit in the audience and ``become educated.''
Coalition coordinator Susan Douglas said she hopes Felter learns about the seriousness of the problem and returns to California with a new perspective and some recommendations for federal administrators.
Douglas said the seriousness is reflected in the Maui Clean Air Coalition, which formed June 10 after she wrote a letter to the editor. The letter included her voice mail number, and more than 50 people called wanting to do something about the situation.
A core group has been meeting every Monday night, and general meetings are held every other Tuesday at the Kihei Community Center.
Central to the group is the belief that open-air cane burning is hazardous to the health and environment of the island and especially to the people living downwind of the cane fires.
Douglas said she and many others believe Hawaii's environmental standards are behind the times and that the EPA shouldn't be giving away its authority to the state Health Department.
One of the coalition's major areas of concentration is the exploration of harvesting alternatives. Douglas said there are several promising and economically feasible nonburning systems already employed in other parts of the world.
Fears that jobs will be lost with the end of burning are unfounded, she said, because even more employees would be needed to gather the cane stalks and take them to the factory.
Douglas said new leadership at HC&S has been open to discussions about alternatives, and she's optimistic that an end to cane burning is in sight.
In case those efforts fail, however, the coalition is working in a different area. A legal committee is gathering data and taking testimony from residents on how the cane burning affects them. The group has been circulating a testimonial letter and asking residents to document the health, property and life impacts of the burning.
Douglas said a class-action lawsuit is a real possibility if the sugar grower doesn't move to end the practice.
Steve Holaday, HC&S plantation manager, said he doesn't see the end of cane burning, given the current technology, which he termed expensive. But, he said, potential modifications in harvesting methods may lead to less burning.
Holaday said that while he will be off-island Nov. 4, he would expect a company representative to attend the Kihei School meeting.
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Psy 412 Miami University. Last revised: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 17:06:34. This document has been accessed 1 times since July 15, 1997. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman .