Mayor Richard Bissen asked state lawmakers to pick up $75 million of the cost of the required matching funds for federal Public Assistance aid.

Lahaina will get a special office to expedite building permits for an estimated 1,200 properties that were damaged or destroyed in the Aug. 8 wildfire, and an outside contractor will be hired to help staff the operation, Maui officials said Monday.

Mayor Richard Bissen said 5,368 fire survivors are still living in 32 hotels, and Maui County is pushing forward with an aggressive plan to replace the lost housing in a partnership with private, state and federal agencies.

“I humbly stand before you today to express my plea for the prioritization of the care for our survivors, and ask that we stand in unity until every survivor has a place to call home,” the Maui mayor said during a briefing before the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen addresses the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House of Representatives Committee on Finance Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen addressed the Senate Ways and Means and the House Finance Committees, asking for about $75 million to help cover the local share of federal disaster aid under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Aassistance program. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)

Bissen said the county is expecting $1 billion in support under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s public assistance program, of which the local government share would be $95 million to $100 million. Maui County is asking the state to support the county by picking up 75% of that cost.

Maui County Managing Director Josiah Nishita told lawmakers Monday the county plans to launch the expedited building permitting process for the 2,000 acres that were impacted by the fire. The expedited permitting would apply only to residential structures, he said.

But staffing the new office has been a challenge.

“We’re having the same struggles everybody else is having throughout the state, which is finding employees,” said Bissen. “We have a shortage right now, and I know that’s an excuse given sometimes as to why we’re not timely on our permitting.”

The county has already issued a request for proposals to hire a private company “to assist us with expediting reviews” of plans for rebuilding, Nishita said. “Our staff is working through the process on how that would work,” he said.

Nishita said the contractor should be selected by Feb. 16, and the new permit office should open in Lahaina by the end of March to begin receiving applications.

The county is also urging FEMA to build housing across West Maui, Bissen said.

“What we know is about 80% of the people that are still in the hotels are insisting on staying in Lahaina or in West Maui, and that’s an additional obstacle, if that’s the word, because we may have some units available in Kihei, or Upcountry or somewhere else,” Bissen told lawmakers.

“Their children go to Lahaina schools, they work in Lahaina hotels, there are reasons why people have that strong connection like all of us have to our communities,” he said. “So, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request, it’s just that we’re dealing with the same inventory struggles.”

“Once we can start to build more units and provide more options, we think that will relieve a lot of pressure,” Bissen said.

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

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