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Discovery of mysterious substance oozing from ground in West Maui draws concern

The tar-like material was found on the site of a long-shuttered sugar mill.
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 6:53 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2022 at 8:11 PM HST
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LAHAINA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Environmentalists are demanding answers about an unknown substance oozing from the ground in West Maui.

The tar-like material was found on the site of a long-shuttered sugar mill in Lahaina.

It’s unclear exactly what it is, but environmentalists and residents who live nearby want it cleaned up immediately.

“We know that historically, that when the mill was operating, they were storing and using all kinds of chemicals which wouldn’t be allowed today, and I don’t know to what extent they’ve ever cleaned it up,” said Lahaina resident Kirk Boes.

Pioneer Mill, one of Hawaii’s first sugar mills, opened in Lahaina in 1860. For 139 years, it was the backbone of West Maui’s economy.

Today, the land off Lahainaluna Road is owned by Kaanapali Land Management Corporation and portions of the land are leased to local businesses.

Trinity Environmental Solutions was hired by a lessee back in August to survey the area for environmental hazards.

“We could smell like rancid oil,” said Trinity Environmental Solutions owner Christy Kajiwara-Gusman.

She followed the smell to a tank located on the west end of the property. The area was covered with wooden pallets.

“We walked over there and I noticed this tar in the ground,” Gusman said.

Gusman said it’s unclear the depth of the patch, but it was approximately 40 feet in diameter.

She reported it to county and state officials, but also wanted to alert the public.

“With the Red Hill thing, when that came out, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, what if we’re sitting on something like this?’ And knowing that there’s housing coming up next door, my concern was more for the community, what if this thing goes into the water system?” said Gusman.

Chad Fukunaga with Kaanapali Land Management Corp said in a statement:

Residents who live nearby are concerned about potential hazardous material near their homes and a nearby river.

“I worry a great deal about what goes into our ocean,” said Lahaina resident Herb Phillips. “We got our river right here.”

Lahaina resident Ernie Johnson said the stench in the area is sometimes “outrageous.”

“It’s really, really bad,” Johnson said. “And I have some space in my backyard where nothing will grow. Bougainvillea die. Everything dies.”

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