Maui Cane Burning Controversy

Maui Cane Burning Controversy
Published: Sep. 26, 2012 at 11:02 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 27, 2012 at 9:01 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An environmental group wants to put an end to cane burning on Maui. says smoke from operations at HC&S, Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar company, is making residents sick and could potentially cause life-threatening illness. On Wednesday, the two sides met to discuss concerns at the HC&S office in Puunene.

Where there's smoke, there's fire, and the organization claims this issue has been heating up for decades. Members delivered a petition with more than 8,700 signatures to both HC&S and the state Department of Health - asking officials not to issue an open-air burn permit to the 140 year old company.

Karen Chun from describes the problem, "Last year, when there was a really, really bad cane burn - several of them in Paia - where the smoke literally smothered people - as in, it was like your house was on fire."

The group says it has a number of peer-review published papers that link cane smoke to lung disease, especially for seniors and children. Its website claims the sugar company - the last one remaining in Hawaii - burns with "reckless disregard" to weather conditions. In response, HC&S says it's listened and tried to balance the public's health concerns while maintaining an 800 employee operation.

HC&S General Manager, Rick Volner, Jr. explains, "We've done a lot of more advanced notification this year for people to find out, in advance, where and when we will be burning, and we've done improved weather collection data and analysis. We've also modified our burning practices to try to minimize impacts to neighbors."

Hawaii News Now did some checking, and the DOH says HC&S continues to meet state and federal regulations on its 36,000 acres.

"They have to provide to us what exactly they're going to be burning, when they're going to be burning, the duration of the burning and the specific agricultural purpose," says DOH spokeswoman, Janice Okubo.

The two sides say Wednesday's talks were productive; although, they agree to disagree on how best to move forward on the issue. HC&S' annual permit is up in mid-March. says it's contemplating a lawsuit, if the agricultural burns aren't banned.

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