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Workshop will help West Maui prepare for a disaster

By Staff | Oct 9, 2014

WEST MAUI – “In a coastal community, it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’ the next storm comes,” and “Luck is with the prepared” were two PowerPoint introductory messages at the Maui County Post-Disaster Reconstruction Guidelines and Protocols Workshop held last week Tuesday at Lahaina Civic Center.

Through a $178,000 endowment from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant Program, a team of island specialists is on a mission to draft post-disaster procedures and strategies “to accommodate expeditious reconstruction while conserving valued coastal resources and protecting sensitive ecosystems.”

The tactical approach is “to build back safer, stronger and smarter.”

James Buika, Maui County Coastal Zone Management planner, and Tara Owens, University of Hawaii Sea Grant Coastal Processes and Hazards specialist, authored the grant, engaging the participation of fellow consultants Thorne Abbott (Coastal Planners LLC), Mike Summers (Planning Consultants Hawaii LLC) and Suzanne Frew (The Frew Group) in the process.

Outreach to the various communities of Maui Nei was the methodology, and meetings were held on Molokai and Lanai and in Hana, Kihei, Paia and Lahaina.

Owens led the West Side workshop.

“Hurricane Iniki served as a really good data point for us. When we started this project, the first thing we did was examine what happened during Iniki from the planning department prospective, so that we could understand what the delays to rebuilding are,” Owens explained.

Iniki “clobbered” Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992, she said.

The storm statistics were staggering: 1,252 homes destroyed, 4,747 uninhabitable and 6,876 habitable with repairs. There were 16 condominium complexes destroyed, 121 deemed uninhabitable and 229 habitable with repairs.

Following a disaster of this magnitude, the rebuilding process was non-productive and complicated, at least.

“The initial cleanup and the response started within a week’s time,” Owens detailed. “It wasn’t until 12 days after the event that the county started thinking about what they’re going to do about the permitting and it wasn’t until another 12 days after that the county decided to streamline the permitting process.”

“Because of the scale of damages,” Owens continued, “it was difficult for the county to decide how best to proceed.” An after-the-fact (ATF) permitting process was opened; and, 17 years later, that emergency permit office was eventually closed.

The aim of the community-based workshops under the NOAA grant is to be prepared.

“When the event happens, we have lots of rebuilding in front of us. Essentially, the bottom line is we want to balance out the regulatory control – what needs to be assessed and inspected – and have permits and getting people back into their homes as quickly as possible,” she said.

“Then we’re also – and this is the case today – we always have the struggle between protecting the natural environment and the built environment. Oftentimes, the built environment is the winner, because the natural environment doesn’t have a voice. We want to make sure that we’re considering that in this decision-making process,” Owens stressed.

About 30 stake-holders collaborated in the interactive process last Tuesday night at the Civic Center, some of them old hat West Side leaders used to county game playing techniques.

Instructions were provided.

The challenge was specific: “The current (planning) system may not be adequate for addressing post-disaster reconstruction needs.”

Participants were asked to designate the regulatory review process appropriate for the different levels of reconstruction guidelines; for example, what circumstances rebuilding projects should be expedited, and under what circumstances they should not.

The objective was simple: to get West Mauians back in their homes, businesses up and running, while at the same time, facilitating reconstruction to ensure the health and safety of citizens and the preservation of our sensitive cultural sites and coastal marine environment.

Game board matrix results will be evaluated by the project team, and an initial report will be forthcoming at the beginning of 2015. The Lahaina News polled stake-holders for preliminary feedback.

One of the attendees was Ekolu Lindsey, president of Maui Cultural Lands.

“I think the county has finally got it right. Look to the community to help solve challenging issues. It’s a small step in the right direction,” he said.

Lindsey thanked the “Coastal Storm Rebuilding Team for listening to the voices of the community. I hope the meeting results have meaningful application within the permitting process (in the event of disaster recovery). It would be a tragedy to gather community input, and our voices not be heard.”

Art Ortiz considered the planning process paramount.

“We need to start somewhere. After watching the news on what happened on the Big Island and the community of Puna, planning is the key to survival on an island,” he commented.

West Maui Taxpayers Association Executive Director Joe Pluta offered suggestions: “More must be done, and the community brought up-to-date on considerations and plans and educated why they should know all the alternatives and options in the event of emergencies. Our isolation from essential medical facilities makes planning all the more vital and necessary.”

The general manager of Gemini Charters, Amy Hampton, was positive: “It was great to see such a diverse group of participants sharing ideas for disaster reconstruction. We all agreed on the importance of streamlining the county’s post-storm permitting process but also felt it was important to think long-term when it came to protecting our coastlines and natural resources. The community will benefit from this proactive approach, and we’ll be far better prepared should disaster strike.”

John Seebart is looking forward to reading the results of the matrix.

Owens concluded, “Presently, none of the counties in the state – and very few municipalities in the country – have rules for post-disaster development, permitting and construction, and yet we are well aware of the threats we face from coastal storms and hazards. It is encouraging that the County of Maui is taking a proactive first step to address the issues, and that our communities are so willing to participate in the process.”