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Residents of Lahaina Submit Petition Urging Hawaii Governor to Postpone Tourism Reopening

by Ryan Lee
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Lahaina tourism reopening

On Tuesday, citizens of the wildfire-devastated town of Lahaina submitted a petition to Hawaii Governor Josh Green, requesting a deferment of the scheduled reopening of a section of West Maui to tourism. The petition, which garnered 3,517 signatures from inhabitants of West Maui postal codes, comes during an intense and emotionally charged debate concerning the appropriate timing for the resumption of tourism in the area. Lahaina, a historic town, was significantly destroyed in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century, which occurred on August 8, causing the loss of at least 98 lives, with more individuals still unaccounted for. The preliminary phase of the tourism reopening plan is slated to commence this Sunday, marking two months since the tragic event.

While some residents express a desperate need for the economic revival that tourism could bring, the majority claim they are neither emotionally nor psychologically prepared to entertain visitors. Pa‘ele Kiakona, a local bartender, articulated this sentiment at a news conference prior to the submission of the petition, stating, “Our emotional wounds are still raw and our losses overwhelmingly significant.”

Tamara Paltin, who represents Lahaina on the Maui County Council, emphasized that although two months may seem extensive, the residents were without reliable telecommunications and internet access for a month post-fire and are still grappling with housing instability. She appealed to the Governor for a decision-making process that engages the residents transparently.

Delegates dressed in red T-shirts visited the Governor’s office to deliver the petition personally. In the absence of Governor Green, the Director of Constituent Services, Bonnelley Pa’uulu, received the signatures on his behalf. The petition has collected 14,000 signatures in total as of midday Tuesday.

In a subsequent interview with the Hawaii News Now program “Spotlight Now,” Governor Green expressed profound sympathy for the suffering of the residents but pointed out that job restoration is integral to the community’s recovery. He emphasized his responsibility to support everyone and avoid a situation where lack of employment would force residents to vacate Maui, an island heavily dependent on tourism.

Visitor numbers plummeted by 70% in the wake of the disaster, resulting in a grim economic outlook for the island. Economists from the University of Hawaii project a spike in unemployment rates, reaching upwards of 10%, which could significantly affect state tax revenues.

Last month, Governor Green announced the reopening of West Maui to tourists, effective October 8. However, Mayor Richard Bissen subsequently clarified that only a specific section of West Maui, covering a 3-mile stretch including the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, would be open initially. Assessment of earlier reopening phases will guide subsequent decisions.

In an effort to ease into the reopening process, Governor Green disclosed that only a limited number of hotels will commence operations this Sunday. For those not emotionally ready to resume work, ongoing access to benefits and housing will be provided. However, he urged the residents to consider the broader community impact of a continued tourism deficit, which will hamper reconstruction and healthcare coverage efforts.

Charles Nahale, a musician who lost all his jobs entertaining tourists, observed the apathy of recent visitors. He emphasized that Lahaina is no longer the same tourist destination it was prior to the calamity and called for adequate time for the community to heal emotionally before resuming normal operations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Lahaina tourism reopening

What is the primary focus of the petition delivered to Hawaii Governor Josh Green?

The petition primarily requests Governor Josh Green to delay the scheduled reopening of a section of West Maui to tourism. The residents argue that the community is neither emotionally nor psychologically prepared to welcome back tourists, especially in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire that claimed at least 98 lives.

Who has initiated and signed this petition?

The petition has been initiated by the residents of Lahaina, a town in West Maui. It garnered 3,517 signatures from inhabitants living within West Maui postal codes. As of midday Tuesday, the total number of signatures collected was 14,000.

What is the emotional state of the Lahaina community according to the petition?

According to the petition and statements made by local residents like Pa‘ele Kiakona, the community is not emotionally or psychologically ready to welcome tourists. The emotional wounds from the tragedy are described as still raw, and the losses overwhelming.

What is the economic implication of delaying the reopening of West Maui to tourists?

Delaying the reopening would likely prolong the economic hardship faced by the community, particularly those employed in the tourism sector. Governor Josh Green noted that over 8,000 people have lost jobs due to the wildfire and mentioned the importance of employment in the recovery process.

What are the immediate plans for the tourism reopening in West Maui?

The immediate plan, slated to commence on Sunday, only involves reopening a specific 3-mile stretch of West Maui, including the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. The decision to reopen other areas will be taken after assessing the success and impact of this initial phase.

Has the state government responded to the petition?

Governor Josh Green has expressed his profound sympathy for the residents’ suffering in a subsequent interview but also highlighted his responsibility to consider the broader economic implications for the island.

How dependent is Maui on tourism?

Maui is heavily dependent on tourism. It is one of the most tourism-reliant islands in Hawaii, and the number of visitors plummeted by 70% after the fire.

What are the projected economic consequences if tourism does not resume soon?

Economists from the University of Hawaii estimate that unemployment rates could surge to above 10% on Maui if tourism does not resume soon. This could have a significant impact on state tax revenues.

More about Lahaina tourism reopening

  • Hawaii Governor’s Statement on Tourism Reopening
  • Lahaina Community’s Petition Against Tourism Reopening
  • Economic Impact of Wildfire on Maui
  • Maui County Council’s Statement on Reopening
  • Interview with Local Lahaina Residents
  • University of Hawaii’s Economic Projections for Maui
  • Spotlight Now Interview with Governor Josh Green
  • Maui Mayor Richard Bissen’s Statement on Tourism Reopening Plan

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