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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

Junked-car solutions offered

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui Bureau


WAILUKU, Maui — Jack Germany was away on business when vandals torched his car as it sat in his condominium parking lot in Kihei.

Nearly two months later, the blackened shell of his 1994 Geo Tracker is still in his Waipu'ilani condominium parking stall despite Germany's efforts to pay to have the vehicle towed away for disposal. He keeps being told there's no place to take the hulk.

"I look at it every day," he said. "It's a constant reminder of the violence — on top of the problem of junk cars on Maui."

Germany's scorched clunker is among the most glaring reminders that Maui is in the throes of a junked-car crisis — a problem that has seen derelict vehicles pile up along the island's roadways for months.

But Maui County officials say the problem could be solved any day. The state is considering their request for a temporary zoning exemption that would allow storage of derelict vehicles on county-owned property in Pu'unene. Approval would jump-start the county's derelict-vehicle towing contracts.

In addition, a county-approved junked-car processor is working to get permission from his landowner to allow his operation to begin in a Kahului industrial area.

Mike Kitagawa of Kitagawa Towing & Transport in Kahului has the properly zoned land, the necessary permits, the equipment to process vehicles and the insurance recently requested by the owner of the Alamaha Street property where Kitagawa wants to conduct business.

Now he's just waiting on the landowner for permission to start. "That could come any minute," said Don Couch, executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa.

A separate bid to process derelict cars in the Pu'unene area has been launched by another party, officials said, but that effort will require rezoning, an often lengthy process.

Maui County's derelict-vehicle removal program has been hobbling since the state Department of Health shut down the county's former scrap-metal contractor for not meeting solid-waste standards last year. The county has been trying to find a replacement contractor, but regulatory obstacles and legal challenges have stood in the way.

Without a qualified contractor to remove hazardous waste from crushed junked cars and other scrap-metal items, the program has floundered, leaving vehicle storage areas full and derelict cars where they were abandoned.

It's been estimated that there are 5,000 abandoned and derelict cars on Maui, said Mike Souza, the county's Solid Waste Division chief.

So with Kitagawa's efforts on hold for months, the county applied for an exemption for two acres of agriculturally zoned land in Pu'unene. Couch said officials are hoping they can store up to 1,000 cars on a property that would likely be fenced for security.

Couch said the state Department of Health was asked to expedite the request, saying the crisis has become a health and public safety issue.

Dr. Lorrin Pang, Maui District health officer, said there certainly are a number of concerns, including the fact the vehicles are attracting rodents. Police also report that abandoned cars on roadways make stopping on the shoulder dangerous at night when it's hard to see, he said.

The zoning request has been forwarded from the Health Department's Solid Waste Branch to the state Attorney General's Office to check on legal concerns, according to the department.

In the meantime, people like Germany, the man with the torched car, continue to write letters and make phone calls to government officials, hoping a solution is at hand.

"I told the police, 'If I can drive the car to the side of the road, could I leave it there?' They weren't amused," he said.

Germany said he doesn't want to tow his car and leave it on the street — even though the fire ensured there would be no evidence pointed to his ownership. "I don't want to break the law. I just want to get rid of it (the car)."