April 11, 2012 | 11:12 AMISN'T HC&S SWEET?
Everyone had a good Easter weekend, right? Didn't eat too much chocolate, or get too much sun? Good and good. Me, didn't do much besides hang out, visit some friends and relax. It was very chill, and part of the general happiness I felt was probably due to a nice letter I received from Rick W. Volner, Jr., the General Manager of the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S).
"Dear neighbor," it began (all my closest friends and relatives call me "neighbor"). "With the start of the harvesting season, the HC&S Pu'unene mill will return to life, and you will begin to see our sugar cane harvesting and planting equipment in the fields and on the plantation roads once again."
Isn't that just precious? The mill's coming back to life! And you know what that means: icky smoke from big sugar cane fires pouring into the morning sky, depositing ash, soot and all kinds of throat-scratching particulates for us to inhale. Of course, Volner apparently doesn't think these things are much of a problem. In fact, he's under the impression that we all love his company's sugar cane burning.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, in advance, for your support of our farming operations on Maui, this being our 140th harvest season," he wrote (Volner thanks people for supporting his company twice in the letter). "We could not fulfill our commitment to agriculture, to our employees, and to the community without your kokua. We know we must continue to be a good neighbor and earn that support."
Isn't that nice of him? He's thanking me "in advance" for my "support." Guess he must be a very busy man who's just too busy running around general managing the mill to ask me (or any other "neighbor" around the island) how we actually, honestly feel about his company burning more than 35,000 acres around Central Maui every three years.
In the old days–I'm thinking the first 50 or so harvest seasons–the company was all-powerful, and could give a damn what residents thought of the filthy practice of burning sugar cane in the field before harvesting. But these days, popular opinion can be a real bitch for a big corporation, especially as online social networking tools make it easier for people to communicate their frustrations and allergic reactions to people across the globe.
It's no longer enough for a company like HC&S to simply portray sugar cane farming as a fait accompli for Maui. Though they're still doing that: "Farming is a challenging business, and we are trying hard to reduce the impact of noise, dust and smoke, all of which are invariably part of the farming process," Volner added in his letter, pretty nakedly implying that the smoke and pollution caused by cane burning is an inevitable part of the "farming process."
No, for a company like HC&S to survive, they have to get out front of the social network, perhaps even create one of their own, to show the people who live and work on Maui that the company is just another caring, helpful "neighbor." Not only does Volner ask in his letter that people visit the company's website (hcsugar.com) but he also encourages them to sign up for their new cane burning "notification tool" Nixle by texting the word "sugar" to 888777.
Now that is helpful! For the first time, residents can find out there's going to be a burn before it happens–before it wrecks havoc on their sinuses–and then.... what? Get an extra box of tissue at the store? Pack a ventilator before driving off to work? Fly to Oahu until the smoke clears?
Don't worry–Volner isn't looking for applause. Just the satisfaction of knowing that he's helped out his neighbors.
"We are determined to keep our 36,000 acres in green cultivation and our family of 800 workers employed," he wrote at the close of the letter. "Please know that our focus continues to be on the long-term, always with Maui and our neighbors' best interests at heart."
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THIS WEEK IN KIHEI
So you can add social worker Netra Halperin's name to the already long list of people who want Republican state Representative George Fontaine's job representing South Maui in the Hawaii Legislature. In addition to Fontaine and now Halperin, former Representative Joe Bertram III, Maui Boys & Girls Club executive director Colin Hanlon and grad student Kaniela Ing have all declared themselves candidates.
Of course, whoever wins the race will have to deal with this stunning, new reality: the roundabout at the intersection of Piikea Avenue and Liloa Drive in Kihei is finally open! Now on the mainland, such a thing as the official opening of a traffic roundabout is not really news (other matters, like the introduction of a new brand of laundry detergent or the whereabouts of Khloe Kardashian, usually take precedence).
But here on Maui, a roundabout is new and magical, worthy of a grand mayoral visit and a special Hawaiian blessing. Hey, county officials began construction of the vaunted roundabout by giving away free Hot Wheels cars to those who went to a Saturday seminar on roundabout driving and safety, so it's only fitting that the official opening is just as big.
Remember, a roundabout is a new and dynamic way to turn a corner or just keep driving straight. It's modern and efficient and like nothing else on Maui... wait, what do you mean there's already a roundabout in Kihei at the intersection of Waiapo Road and Oluea Street?
Damn you, secret roundabout! Damn you to hell!
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