Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee to address key issues
By Gabe Johnson
As a former farmer and someone who worked many years in conservation, I am excited to be the new chair of the Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee.
I will work just as hard as I did when I was the Affordable Housing Committee chair to change the system and invest in our community on the issues that matter to the residents of Maui County.
My top priorities in this new committee include growing our sustainable local food system, diversifying our economy to provide more employment opportunities for our residents and younger generations and protecting the natural resources that keep our home Maui, nō ka ʻoi. I am looking forward to tackling the Axis deer overpopulation management crisis with my team, a topic that runs deep through all three of these subject matters.
I encourage members of the public to reach out to discuss their ideas regarding these issues, including public transportation, where I hope to expand services between the outer islands.
My vision for the Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee is as follows:
Agriculture: As a farmer, I know the challenge of getting access to the land, water and capital it takes to start growing food. I will build on the passing of Bill 160, CD1, FD1 (2022)—which expands the Kula Agricultural Park to improve resources for local farmers, support regenerative agriculture and give preference to growers of crops for local markets—by working with stakeholders to create more county agricultural parks, especially the one long overdue on Lānaʻi.
In my residency area, I am also working on instating a Lānaʻi farmers market in one of our county parks and will look into additional ways to support local farmers by addressing agricultural water rates and farm dwellings. I will continue to work with the newly created County Department of Agriculture to encourage local food production and support them in meeting the duties, functions and reporting requirements that I introduced last year.
Economic Diversification: The pandemic made clear the vulnerability of our tourism-based economy, which shadowed the exodus of our working folks and young adults due to the lack of good-paying, appealing jobs combined with an overpriced housing market. Coming off the heels of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy report created by the Maui Economic Development Board, there are opportunities for workforce development in green jobs, the creative industry including film, art and design, agriculture and other innovative sectors.
Environment: We must protect our environment to address climate change and preserve our natural resources, including healthy coral reefs, beaches, mountains, watersheds and streams that are necessary for a strong economy and the sustainability of local culture. We can and must expand recycling programs, watershed management planning and wetland mapping.
Axis deer management is part of environmental protection efforts, but also provides opportunities for economic growth and food security. Having all of these subjects in the Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee means we can address Axis deer management holistically, to turn the problem into an economic engine.
Public Transportation: Our bus system is paramount for those who do not own cars or cannot drive and is a service that is critical to our working poor. The Maui Bus also should be used to relieve our county’s traffic and pollution.
I look forward to working with my fellow colleagues on the council and on the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization, a policy board I was appointed to this year that consists of Maui state and county leaders and administration directors. I want to make the bus system easier to access and more comfortable for passengers through initiatives such as supporting new covered bus stops and examining current bus pass rates.
Additionally, I plan to spearhead folding in the Lāna`i ferry service, by utilizing state and federal funding to protect this important infrastructure for Lāna`i residents and promote economic development.
I understand that the cost of living and quality of life for Maui County’s working class are at a critical junction. By handling these issues adeptly, the council can fulfill what I believe is government’s moral duty to turn these challenges into opportunities and benefit our local residents.
*Gabe Johnson is the chair of the Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee. He holds the County Council seat for the Lānaʻi residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative and community matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.