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Rebuilding After Disaster

In the event of a devastating natural disaster, homes on Molokai may be damaged. But when residents are ready to repair and rebuild, they face the usual lengthy permit process that is currently required by the County of Maui to replace or restore any structure. While emergency building permits can be issued, the county is looking at how the permit process can be expedited in the wake of natural disasters to speed up the recovery process.

Planners are visiting communities around Maui County holding workshops to involve residents in the process of developing post-disaster reconstruction guidelines, and visited Molokai two weeks ago. Organizers say the work is groundbreaking.

“There are few communities doing this nation-wide, and Maui County is the only community in Hawaii,” said Tara Owens, a UH Sea Grant Coastal Hazards Specialist working with the county on the project. “Nationally, they are waiting to see what we come up with. It’s an extremely important first step and hopefully it will become a model.”

Planners led Molokai residents in a workshop to set priorities in the rebuilding process, expedite essential projects so people can move back into their homes, while at the same time maintaining regulatory control and preserving environmentally and culturally sensitive areas.

“We have a permit process that takes forever, and then the governor can declare an emergency and it waves all those things,” said James Buika, planner with Maui County’s Current Planning Division. “So we’re trying to find a balance.”

This planning process is not intended to be for emergency response, explained Buika. Instead, this permitting protocol would kick in six to eight weeks after disaster strikes.

“This is once the dock [Kaunakakai Wharf] is up and running again and I’m ready to rebuild my house,” he said.

Planners identified 10 shoreline types of varying environmental sensitivities — from stable cliff to sandy beach– and 10 home and property damage types — such as interior repairs or structural failure. They also categorized three types of permitting priorities — green for immediate rebuilding following best management practices, yellow for inspection needed first, and red indicating a normal, comprehensive permitting process is needed. Creating a matrix grid with the 10 shoreline types and 10 damage types, they asked residents to complete the matrix by filling in with the color they felt appropriate based on health and safety, environment and priority after disaster.

“The building permit process is rigorous because we want to protect our natural environmental but the process is not designed to be post-disaster,” said planner Mike Summers. “If 2,000 or 3,000 applications went through that process after a disaster, it would get bogged down… Your job as a team is to look at what level of regulatory review should be necessary in particular situations.”

Resident Dathan Bicoy said with only one lumber store on Molokai, that’s at sea level and a long waiting list of work for Molokai’s few plumbers and electricians, the island has a lack of resources that will make post-disaster rebuilding difficult.

Another attendee commented that Molokai would probably be low priority in case of disaster response.

Buika said they are trying to change that perception, and part of the planning process is to help understand what resources would be needed — equipment as well as personnel — so they can be sent over when the time comes.

Zhantell Dudoit, Molokai Community Coordinator for the effort, said unlike many meetings in which much is discussed but there is no follow-up, organizers are already planning a post-meeting so the community can continue to be involved in what is approved and implemented.

Buika said planners will gather comments from their meetings around Maui County and plan four more community workshops in July through September to continue the planning process.

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