Federal partners team up for Hawai‘i wildfires cleanup
Federal partners team up for Hawai‘i wildfires cleanup in Maui. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Disasters are multi-dynamic, fluid events that evolve rapidly. Given the fast-paced nature of disasters, a comprehensive response requires teamwork. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency often collaborate on various environmental and regulatory matters in the United States.

These two agencies have distinct roles and responsibilities, but their work often intersects, particularly when it comes to debris removal and environmental cleanup efforts in the event of natural disasters, emergencies, or hazardous material spills.

USACE and the EPA have team members deployed to Maui on debris removal mission assignments from FEMA after the Hawai‘i wildfires that impacted property owners in Lahaina, Kula, and Olinda, on Aug. 8.

To be successful, the debris removal mission will require synchronized coordination between USACE and EPA throughout the entirety of the cleanup process.

“Since day one, we have been in constant consultation with USACE,” said Michael Brogan, assistant public information officer for the EPA. “Whether it’s our liaison officers, public information officers, incident command, general staff or commander, we always make sure to keep the line of communication open, it’s really a team effort for both our agencies.”

Col. Jess Curry, Hawai‘i Wildfire Field Office commander, said the strong partnership and cooperation between the USACE and EPA teams has been instrumental in getting the hazardous material and debris cleanup started.

The debris removal process involves two phases. Phase 1 is currently underway and involves the removal and disposal of hazardous materials by the EPA from all properties impacted by the wildfires.

Once the EPA has cleared the tax map key, or parcel, of hazardous material the remainder of Phase 1 work will be completed by USACE.

This includes hazardous site and tree assessments and removing incidental hazardous household materials and bulk asbestos materials not picked up by the EPA.

Hazardous household materials may include items such as batteries, waste oil, fuels, paints, chemicals, and household cleaners, while bulk asbestos materials may include flooring, tile, thermal insulation, fireproofing materials, and ceiling tiles.

During Phase 2, USACE will remove approved fire-damaged materials from private property upon approval from property owners. The EPA is almost complete with their part of the debris removal mission and USACE has begun their portion of the Phase 1 work, having already completed initial assessments in the Upcountry area.

“The EPA set a great example for how to respect and protect the land in the early stages of the recovery and shared their lessons learned openly with us,” said Curry. “The Corps team has used that example and is now building upon EPA’s successes as our team takes the lead in the removal of debris in Upcountry and in Lahaina.”