A government shutdown could yet complicate removal and remediation.

ECC Constructors, a California company with offices in Honolulu, will be the prime contractor leading the second phase of Lahaina’s remediation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has confirmed.

Native Hawaiian-owned businesses will be actively sought out as contractors for the assessment and removal of contaminated soil and ash from locations in West and Central Maui, according to a federal clause in the award to the mainland company.

The Corps employs private companies to manage emergency remediation projects and augment its response capability through its advanced contracting initiative.

Assessments of fire-damaged properties will be conducted by local firms, while the removal process will include a mix of local resources and ECC. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

ECC is the initiative contractor for Region 8, the Pacific Ocean Division, according to the Corps’ Honolulu District office. It was awarded the status in 2021 and ECC’s website shows it has been contracted in past post-disaster operations, including debris removal projects following multiple wildfires in Northern California.

A representative for ECC said it was too early to comment on contracts for the cleanup.

Phase one of the cleanup in West Maui, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, has crews assessing individual properties and removing hazardous household waste – like propane tanks and visible asbestos – that pose an immediate danger.

Steve Calanog, EPA’s incident commander, estimated this phase would last between eight to 12 weeks and 300 properties out of an estimated 2,000 had been cleared so far, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said Wednesday.

For the next phase of land remediation, FEMA has assigned the Corps to remove debris from private properties in Lahaina, Kula and Olinda. The Corps estimated that will cost $400 million, but the figure is subject to change.

Assessments of properties will be exclusively conducted by local firms, while removal will be done by a mix of local businesses and ECC, according to the Corps’ Honolulu District office.

While it is still determining the scope of the second phase, FEMA said it is actively choosing Native Hawaiian organizations under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, designed to support socio-economically disadvantaged businesses.

Lahaina, Hawaii (Aug. 17, 2023) - FEMA Associate Adminstrator for the Office of Response and Recovery Anne Bink surveys damage from the Hawaii Wildfires.
FEMA’s mission to clear toxic soil from West Maui could be delayed by shortfalls in government funding. (Provided: FEMA/2023)

“I think local companies and local employees really understand the sensitivity and care that this work must be done with,” said Rep. Jill Tokuda. “That’s not to say a mainland company or mainland workers would not understand that. But we’re talking not just about removing debris. We’re not just talking about remediation. We’re talking about rebuilding our home.”

But a potential government shutdown in October could also slow down the timeline for remediation.

On Aug. 10 President Biden requested $12 billion in funding for FEMA’s disaster relief fund. Natural disasters that soon followed on the mainland have since reduced the existing fund to only $3.4 billion, according to the agency’s director.

The administration has requested an additional $4 billion to cover a potential funding gap.

Tokuda said Hawaii’s congressional delegation is focused on avoiding a government shutdown that could cause a gap in disaster relief funding.

“We have put our full weight and force behind all efforts to keep FEMA funded, and to keep all agencies of government running and prevent a shutdown, because any kind of shutdown would slow down our efforts toward our people,” she said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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