Sugarcane burning concerns draw hundreds to meeting

Photo courtesy Sandi Ioakimi

It was a packed house Thursday night at Kihei Community Center as residents concerned about cane burning met with the Department of Health and Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company.

The last sugar plantation on Maui is leaving some residents angry because of the smoke from cane burning.

“There’s so many children especially on those days when it’s close and the wind is not blowing and it’s so smoggy there. You would swear it’s downtown LA,” said Trinette Furtado, who spoke at the meeting. “You see children wiping off their eyes, crying, coughing. Many children get sent home.”

Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company burns its fields before harvesting and has done so for decades. HC&S says all burning practices comply with all state and federal laws including the Clean Air Act, but residents still have their concerns.

So why do they have to burn the fields?

According to the company’s website, it’s tried looking for alternatives, but has not been able to find a cost-effective way to remove the cane leaves without burning them.

“I think what is forgotten is how we are still a part of this community and how we support this community after all these years long before anyone has been around,” said Koa Martin, who attended the meeting.

The Department of Health, which is responsible for deciding when sugar cane can be burned, says it’s working on a new system that will hopefully allow cane to be burned with as little impact as possible to the public.

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