Local engineer’s commitment: rebuilding with heart and expertise

By Makenzie LeonardApril 23, 2024

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

LAHAINA – Mark Wagatsuma, a project engineer for the Honolulu District’s construction branch, supports the wildfires recovery on Maui as a quality assurance inspector.

Wagatsuma, a native Hawaiian, worked project management for a general contractor in Hawaii for 20 years before starting his federal career. “This work is fortunately very familiar to me,” he said.

When he arrived on Maui, he was pleased to see primarily local contractors hired for the debris removal mission.

Working with these local construction crews has been the highlight of his deployment, he said.

Wagatsuma volunteered to support the recovery mission because he considers the people of Maui to be his neighbors; they’re in his backyard.

He said his first few days on Maui were tough. Seeing the devastation in person was much more personal than seeing footage on the news.

“All the crews are great; they’re working hard to complete this. I have enjoyed seeing the progress of them clearing lots,” he said.

Many of the debris removal crew members are Lahaina locals. They are clearing the homes of their aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends. “It’s really powerful to see,” he said.

Wagatsuma said he appreciates the inclusion of cultural monitors on this mission. They are local Hawaiians observing the debris removal crews to ensure cultural sensitivities are respected.

“The addition of a cultural monitor on every site helps ease the public’s mind, in my opinion,” he said.

From his decades of construction experiences on Hawaii, he said while it is typical to have an archeologist on historic worksites such as Lahaina, the addition of cultural monitors is special.

“They serve a big purpose; they are there to talk to the homeowners when they come on site. The cultural monitors are there, local to local, to console them and offer support,” said Wagastuma.