Unsafe water still hampers services as more Maui businesses reopen | News, Sports, Jobs

A sign outside Safeway in Lahaina advertises that the store is open on Wednesday. More businesses are opening as the county lifts restrictions, but some are unable to offer full services because they remain under unsafe water advisories. Safeway, for example, is selling frozen and refrigerated items, produce and shelf-stable items, but is not making food on-site.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

As more businesses are being allowed to reopen near areas affected by the wildfires, some are still contending with contaminated water.

Some places like Kula Lodge have been able to adapt, filling up 5-gallon jugs using water tanks, while others like Island Grocery Depot in Lahaina are unable to open because they can’t use the water to wash their produce, work their ice machine and run their butcher shop.

Nelson Okumura said Island Grocery Depot’s power is back on and data is back up to process credit card transactions, but “no more clean water yet.”

“Workers cannot wash their hands,” said Okumura, president and CEO of Valley Isle Produce, which is doing business as VIP Foodservice and Island Grocery Depot stores.

“That’s the only thing holding us back.”

Maui County’s Department of Water Supply issued an unsafe water advisory on Aug. 11 for areas of upper Kula and Lahaina affected by the Aug. 8 wildfires, as harmful contaminants, including benzene and other volatile organic compounds, may have entered the water system. People are advised not to drink the water or use it for cooking and to limit the use of hot water as well as use proper ventilation when using water indoors.

On Tuesday, the Water Department cleared an area in Kula known as “Zone 1,” which covered the vast majority of the area Upcountry where the advisory was in effect. Zones 2-5 are still under an advisory and range from the neighborhoods around the Kula Sandalwoods and Kula Lodge down to Kulamanu Circle and Lower Kimo Drive. A full map of the unsafe water advisory is available at mauicounty.gov.

On Wednesday, Maui County also lifted disaster area restrictions for two business zones, Zone 5B, the Lahaina Cannery Mall parcel, and Zone 5E, the business area of Kupuohi and Ulupono Streets, where Island Grocery Depot is located. However, the unsafe water advisory remains.

The county said that the state Department of Health’s smoke and dust advisory remains in effect for portions of Maui impacted by fire and surrounding areas with smoke, ash and dust.

Maui County Water Supply Director John Stufflebean said in late August that the department was “focusing on getting safe water” to the Lahaina Cannery Mall area, but estimated it would “take a few weeks at the least.”

Stufflebean could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

A Safeway spokeswoman confirmed that the store at Lahaina Cannery Mall opened Wednesday. Hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

When asked what can and cannot be sold due to the unsafe water advisory, she said refrigerated, frozen, produce and shelf-stable items are available, but no food production is currently happening on-site.

On its Facebook page Wednesday, Lahaina Cannery announced the reopening of Safeway and Long’s Drugs. The entrance and exit to the mall is through Keawe Street only.

Meanwhile, Upcountry, Wednesday was also Kula Lodge & Restaurant’s first day open since the fire that burned homes nearby but did not touch the chalets, restaurant and Kula Marketplace store, which had already opened earlier.

“We had 60 people through this morning because we opened at 8. I mean it’s not a lot, we used to get like hundreds … but every time we’d see someone come in we’d get so giddy,” Isa Shipley, the chief operating officer of Kula Lodge & Restaurant and Kula Marketplace, said Wednesday morning.

Shipley said there were also tourists who stopped in Wednesday from Missouri and Kansas.

“It was so humbling,” she said, noting she thanked the visitors for their support.

Kula Lodge & Restaurant’s Facebook page noted a new brunch menu for its business hours between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with last seating at 1:45 p.m.

The Lodge’s chalets are also open. They had been housing displaced residents from Lahaina and Kula, but the last ones moved out on Wednesday, Shipley said, adding that they also have paid reservations coming in this week.

The Lodge will put 5-gallon jugs in every chalet along with two cases of drinking water. Guests are also advised that they can use cold water but not hot water, Shipley said.

“It’s been so somber,” she said of the weeks before Wednesday’s opening, explaining how there were thoughts of “are we ever going to have some level of normalcy back here again?”

“Today it felt like we may see that again in the future,” Shipley said.

However, that may take some time. Shipley said that so far she was only able to bring back two of the 72 workers the business had to temporarily lay off after the fire. She said not all will come back, as some have found other jobs and others have had to move away. The restaurant was working on a skeleton crew Wednesday, she said.

Even when the lodge and restaurant had to close, the business was helping the community and had a portion of the property used as a donation drop-off and pickup area and staging site for volunteers. Kula Lodge also served hot meals to residents and first responders and gave people $25 in free groceries from Kula Marketplace, CEO Stephanie Mallek said late last month.

Mallek said they “were lucky to be spared overall in the fire,” and since they could not open, they used the property to help the displaced.

Island Grocery Depot in Lahaina also escaped the flames that burned a neighboring business — Okumura said earlier this month that there was a fire wall separating the two.

And, throughout all the fires and power outages on Aug. 8, the store’s generator worked, so his freezer items never spoiled and his dry goods were OK. However, they donated their produce and other more perishable items, since the store could not reopen quickly.

Okumura said that he has not heard people clamoring for the store to reopen in Lahaina, noting that the food and goods distributions are helping supplement needed items for residents.

Okumura said his Lahaina employees from the Kahului and Lahaina store are OK, but more than a dozen lost their homes.

He added that his VIP Foodservice food distribution business has also slumped, as it provided goods for many of Maui’s hotels, which are being used as temporary shelters as visitors have been staying away.

* Staff Writer Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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