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Maui Businesses Are Supposed To Have Priority For Wildfire Cleanup Jobs. Do They?

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Maui Businesses Are Supposed To Have Priority For Wildfire Cleanup Jobs. Do They?

Jan 31, 2024 | 8:58 am ET
By Matthew Leonard
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An excavator belonging to Maui company Alpha Inc. sits at a job site as debris removal from fire-damaged homes in Lahaina got underway earlier this month. Alpha Inc. is one of three local companies Civil Beat has been able to determine have received work under the federal contract. (Maui County photo)
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An excavator belonging to Maui company Alpha Inc. sits at a job site as debris removal from fire-damaged homes in Lahaina got underway earlier this month. Alpha Inc. is one of three local companies Civil Beat has been able to determine have received work under the federal contract. (Maui County photo)

The California-based principal contractor working on Lahaina wildfire debris removal is refusing to share information on which subcontractors it is hiring for the job.

That is making it difficult to evaluate the extent of involvement by local companies, even though months ago state, county and federal officials touted the cleanup effort as providing needed jobs for Maui and that local companies were important for cultural sensitivity.

A handful of Maui companies have confirmed to Civil Beat they are subcontractors working on the second phase of wildfire debris removal under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ contract with the Environmental Chemical Corporation, the prime contractor based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But ECC won’t identify their subcontractors publicly and the Corps of Engineers can’t compel them to do so.

ECC Vice President Glenn Sweatt declined to supply a list of subcontractors after a request by Civil Beat and the Corps said it isn’t legally authorized to release a list.

Maui County referred a request for information on the use of local subcontractors to the Corps, and the Maui Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

A $64.2 million contract with ECC Constructors for removing residential debris from Lahaina was awarded Jan. 5, Corps of Engineers spokesman Rick Brown confirmed via email. That amount comes out of the $500 million firm-fixed-price base contract.

Gov. Josh Green selected the Corps of Engineers in late August to spearhead debris removal from Lahaina and Kula fire zones and ECC was named as the prime contractor under the Corps’ Advanced Contract Initiative, a system for prequalifying companies for deployment in disasters.

Green, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and Rep. Jill Tokuda all spoke then of the need for cultural awareness and sensitivity and the inclusion of local companies in the wildfire recovery and remediation process.

“We look forward to working with them (USACE) in ensuring that our local workforce is incorporated in the effort including our local contractors,” Bissen told Spectrum News on Aug. 30.

“There will be a focus on utilizing local businesses and paying prevailing wages for the debris removal effort,” Green said Aug. 29.

The details of future debris removal contracts between USACE and ECC on Maui will be only made public when the awards are announced, Brown said. ECC was also contracted to remove Kula debris in October for $5.7 million.

A Handful Of Maui Subcontractors

For one Lahaina-based company, a subcontract with ECC has resulted in a significant expansion.

Truth Excavation had two five-man crews and two articulated dump trucks with drivers working on residential debris removal from Lahaina as of Monday, the company’s office manager Jennifer Higashi told Civil Beat.

Prior to the fire, the company six employees, but has now grown to 27, she said.

The company lost its mechanic shop in the Aug. 8 blaze but staff members were able to save most of their excavation equipment. They have had to source some heavy trucks to supplement their inventory for this next phase, Higashi said. The firm was also involved in clearing debris in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

Higashi expects the work to continue for six months to a year and they may expand to three or four crews during that time. Truth Excavation may stay involved when the Corps of Engineers moves to the clearing of fire-affected commercial locations in Lahaina, she said.

Jenny Sullivan, operations manager for Hawaii Materials Recycling in Kihei confirmed that the company had been subcontracted by ECC as well. The trucking arm of the business, P.B. Sullivan, was working with Maui civil construction firm Alpha Inc.

Alpha confirmed it is a subcontractor for ECC and both companies were featured in photographs supplied by Maui County when excavated soil and debris started being transported to the Olowalu landfill on Jan. 17.

Sullivan said Phase Two involved making all six of the P.B. Sullivan heavy trucks on the island available for hauling with Alpha. She said the material recycling side of the business was working overtime processing concrete and other masonry that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

The scope of the cleanup means a lot of smaller trucking and hauling operations have been brought in on the effort, Sullivan said.

Neither Alpha nor Goodfellow Bros. — another civil construction firm subcontracted in Phase One — responded to requests for comment Friday.

Other Corps Contracts With Local Businesses

Since the fire, the Corps has awarded $106.2 million in contracts to two Native Hawaiian Organizations under the federal 8(a) program, and $18.7 million for cultural monitoring services to the Honolulu architectural firm AEPAC.

Dawson Solutions LLC, based in Honolulu was awarded a $52.5 million contract for hazardous site assessments and bulk asbestos removal in Lahaina, Kula and Olinda on Oct. 16, and completed the contract Jan. 14.

Dawson’s general manager Derek Mar said via email that the company was not involved in the second phase of Lahaina debris removal. Mar said that all the partners involved in the Phase One hazardous site assessment were identified on the Ho’ola Maui Hui website.

The subcontractor list for Dawson includes at least seven Native Hawaiian Organizations and a dozen other Hawaii providers or businesses with Hawaii offices.

For the construction of the temporary school to replace the Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina a base contract for $53.7 million was awarded on Nov. 4 to another Native Hawaiian Organization, Pono Aina Management of Waianae, according to the Corps’ contracting website.

Honolulu firm AEPAC’s contract for cultural monitoring of FEMA missions assigned to the Corps includes subcontracting Na’Aikane o Maui, A’ina Archaeology, Brandis Sarich Art + Architecture and cultural practitioners from the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, according to AEPAC’s website.

Civil Beat has submitted a FOIA request with the Corps of Engineers for additional information on the use of local subcontractors.

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