The Maui County Council has voted unanimously in favor of a resolution urging Hawaii’s governor to delay the October 8 reopening of West Maui to tourism.
“Opening up on the exact date that marks two months from the fire is not trauma-informed,” Council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said in the meeting Friday.
“In honor of the two-month mark, the governor has cracked the whip sending everyone back to work,” Rawlins-Fernandez said.
Deadly wildfires that broke out in West Maui in early August severely damaged the historic town of Lahaina, killing 97 people and destroying hundreds of residents’ homes.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green previously announced state officials were looking to reopen West Maui beginning Sunday.
“One month from today, all travel restrictions will end, and West Maui will be open to visitors again, so people from Hawaii and around the world can resume travel to this special place and help it begin to recover economically,” Green said at a news conference in September.
Residents have been allowed to return and survey what’s left of their homes in phases over the past two weeks, and parts of West Maui are still on track to begin a phased reopening to tourists starting October 8, but the action has met with controversy.
Some residents of hard-hit Lahaina have petitioned Green to push back the reopening date, saying the community needs more time to heal.
“The weight of recent events still burden on our shoulders and our souls ache with grief,” Lahaina native Paele Kiakona said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“Not yet,” Kiakona said. “Our grief is still too fresh and our loss is too profound.”
The resolution receiving a unanimous council vote “urges the governor to adopt the proposal from the community that ties benchmarks measuring community stability to each phase of opening to tourism.”
Council member Tamara Paltin said she hopes the council’s vote “can send a loud message.”
“We need certain things to be able to open to tourism,” Paltin said. “We need stability of housing. We’re not machines.”
The recovery process after a traumatic event like the devastating fires “requires time, compassion and a supportive environment that allows residents to heal, rebuild and regain a sense of normalcy,” according to the resolution.
“The reopening of West Maui for tourism … poses a significant challenge to the emotional well-being and readiness of our community members, particularly those directly affected by the wildfires,” the resolution states.
Green said in a statement Saturday many have asked about the right time to welcome visitors to West Maui.
“There is no easy answer to this question, but I can say that if we support Maui’s economy and keep our people employed, they will heal faster and can continue to be able to afford to live on Maui,” Green said.
Maui’s mayor, Richard Bissen, will be leading the phased reopening, according to Green.
“It will be a gradual reopening that considers the delicate situation of our wildfire survivors,” the governor said.