Thousands of Maui property owners haven’t yet given government permission to clear debris

“The difficulty for individuals to be able to do it on their own."
Published: Nov. 13, 2023 at 5:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - About 900 Maui property owners who saw their homes destroyed in the catastrophic wildfires have given the government permission to remove debris.

But thousands more have yet to sign right-of-entry forms.

That’s according to Maui County Council vice Chair Yuki Lei Sugimura.

Altogether, about 3,500 homes were lost in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui.

Sugimura says most in her district, which includes Kula and Olinda, have signed up for the government-funded removal as the alternate option of individual cleanup is a tall task.

“The difficulty for individuals to be able to do it on their own ... is that number one, you have to have a contractor that knows what they’re doing,” Sugimura said.

Special Section: Maui Wildfires Disaster

“Number two, you’re gonna have to follow the same rules of safety and security and health.”

That means debris packing needs to be done under specific regulations used by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent toxic ash and dust from going airborne.

There’s also the issue of cost — private removal comes with a high price.

“They’re at risk of having to pay for their own cleanup, which can cost $70,000,” said Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement president and CEO Kuhio Lewis. “That’s concerning. These people are already facing hardship. Once we move past this phase, it’s going to be hard to go back.”

The CNHA has spent months working directly with wildfire victims.

Lewis cites a number of hurdles in signing up for the clean-up, including communication about resources available, possible distrust in government, and survivors still processing their trauma.

“I think it’s a matter of navigating a very complex situation,” Lewis said.

“They’re trying to apply for rental assistance or trying to find housing. They’re trying to do all of these things and then being asked to sign papers for right of entry.”

Sugimura also understands the challenges involved and spent the weekend monitoring cleanup efforts in Kula. She encourages survivors to sign up as soon as they’re able to.

“To some degree, you’re gonna have to trust that the decisions being made are for the betterment of the entire community, as well as, the property owner,” Sugimura said. “To remove the debris and also for the safety of our neighbors.”

Those interested in registering for county cleanup can get more information by clicking here.