Star-Advertiser questions and DHHL answers submitted to the paper on Dec. 12, 2013.

• Why have the problems in Kalawahine related to settling and water infiltration taken so long to resolve? Some of the homeowners have been complaining for more than a decade, I’m told.

DHHL’s current administration has taken steps to investigate and analyze the homeowners’ complaints.  DHHL is also participating in ongoing mediation with the homeowners, the developer, and other parties to attempt to resolve these issues.

• How many homeowners have been affected by the problems? Just the four (Kaaa, Bird, Nagasako, Kema) referred to in a Nov. 21, 2012, demand letter from the AG’s office to the developer’s attorney (demanding that KIC remedy the defects)? Or are there other affected homeowners? 

DHHL is only aware of complaints made by these four homeowners.

• Roughly how many homeowners in all have complained to DHHL about flooding, water seepage, defective construction or other related problems at Kalawahine since the subdivision opened? I’m trying to get a sense of whether these type of problems affected just a few or many homeowners.

There are no other complaints that we are tracking at this time.

• The demand letter states that KIC failed to properly design and/or construct the four subject units. Is DHHL alleging defective design or construction of other homes in that subdivision? If so, please explain.

The demand letter relates to only those four units.

• The demand letter also says that KIC failed to properly design and construct the on-site and off-site infrastructure for the project. Have such alleged defects affected most or all of the subdivision and, if so, how?

See above.

• I was told that when the underground water lines throughout Kalawahine were flushed roughly four or five years ago, more than 200 leaks were discovered and subsequently patched. Is that accurate?

It is the Department’s understanding that KIC did conduct tests and subsequently installed a plastic liner within the drainage main to prevent water infiltration.

• Roughly how much has DHHL spent in addressing these problems that have surfaced since the first residents began moving in more than a dozen years ago? 

In order to better understand the scope of the water infiltration issue, DHHL retained AECOM Engineers to prepare an independent assessment of the water infiltration problem at Kalawahine at a cost of $49,500.  DHHL has also devoted hundreds of hours of staff time investigating the complaints and working with the developer to address them.

• What is the status of the mediation to resolve the four cases referred to in the Nov. 21 demand letter?

Mediation is ongoing.  To increase the chances of a resolution, as well as to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the mediation process, DHHL will not offer additional public comments this time.

• What has DHHL done since November 2012 to try to expedite a resolution?

Mediation is ongoing.  To increase the chances of a resolution, as well as to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the mediation process, DHHL will not offer additional public comments this time.

• Would you disagree with the homeowners who believe these problems have taken too long to resolve?

Mediation is ongoing.  To increase the chances of a resolution, as well as to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the mediation process, DHHL will not offer additional public comments this time.

• Some homesteaders say the Kalawahine situation is an example of a problem that DHHL has had historically in doing turnkey housing projects. Other examples of defective home construction, infrastructure development or planning and design have surfaced over the years, some beneficiaries say. There was even a story touching on this issue in the current edition of Aloha ‘Aina Ea Ea. Do you believe the Kalawahine situation is an isolated one, and the vast majority of homes purchased by beneficiaries in turnkey projects are well constructed in well planned communities? Or have there been multiple examples of post-occupancy problems involving turnkey housing? Please explain.

There is always a possibility that design and construction problems will arise with any project, whether homes are developed by a private developer, government, or the homeowners themselves.  In the past 10 years, approximately 1,500 turnkey homes were developed on Hawaiian home lands.  The vast majority of these homes did not involve problems.

When problems do arise on homestead projects, DHHL strives to investigate, review and work towards resolution.

The Department is constantly looking to provide housing products that best meet the needs of the beneficiaries we serve.  The key to any successful development is in balancing the needs of our beneficiaries with the resources available at the time we are able to undertake a project.

By providing a mix of development options (Turnkey, DHHL as developer, self-help, owner/builder), DHHL is better able to address issues of affordability and housing needs.

Compared with the alternatives available, turnkey projects are the fastest, most efficient means of producing houses.

Some of the benefits of turnkey developments include:· Professional management. The developer would have its own team of architects, engineers, construction contractors, and marketing agents to implement the project. Otherwise, DHHL staff must be committed full-time.

· Financing. The developer is usually required to provide interim funding during house construction – DHHL Trust Funds would not be tied up and available for use on other projects.

· Lower site work costs. If the developer is responsible for constructing lots and infrastructure as well as houses, it would know prior to lot construction, the location of the houses within the individual lots. Foundation stabilizing material (i.e., coral) could be placed according to the building footprints, rather than the entire lot.

One area that beneficiaries suggested I ask about is Kekaha on Kauai. I’ve been told that there have been problems with pieces of glass and tar surfacing in people’s yards. I have yet to talk to Kekaha homesteaders about this, so I don’t know whether the information I’m getting is accurate. If I learn more about this and it warrants inclusion in the story, I will let you know early next week (I’m off tomorrow) and likely will have a few more questions. But I wanted to give you a heads-up about the possibility of mentioning what’s happening in Kekaha so you can check on that.

I’m still waiting to hear back from several Kekaha homesteaders but rather than wait until I hear from them, which could be later in the week, I wanted to get some questions to you now to give you more time to develop responses. Below are the questions. Please add them to my list from last week:

• Please describe the scope of the soil and other problems affecting homeowners in Kekaha Residence Lots Unit 4, including what is believed to be causing the problems and how many lots are affected?

The subject property has been owned by the State of Hawaii (DLNR) from as early as 1965.  The land was acquired from DLNR under the Act 14 settlement in 1995.

A Final Environmental Assessment for the 51-lot subdivision was done in April 2003; a Finding of No Significant Impact was published May 2003. The Environmental Review Record and Notice of Finding of No Significant Impact and Notice of Intent to Request Release of Funds were completed on February 18, 2005, as required by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

DHHL’s contractor completed construction of subdivision infrastructure in 2006.  Subsequently, 49 homes were constructed between 2008 and 2009.

After homesteaders moved in to their homes, reports were made about glass and metal debris surfacing in their lots.  This administration took these concerns seriously.  In 2012, the Hawaiian Homes Commission approved funding for an additional environmental assessment to look specifically at these debris reports.

In February 2013, the Department of Health Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response (HEER) Office, State of Hawaii, provided a report.  HEER performed site investigations and took two soil samples.  The results indicated that a tarry substance similar to common asphalt was found and is not toxic.   However clean up of gross contamination and nuisance concerns were recommended.

Notwithstanding the DOH report, a request was made by lessees to DHHL that environmental tests be conducted to determine if there were any toxic contaminants that exceed human or ecological risk standards.  DHHL therefore retained AECOM, a qualified environmental engineering firm to research, analyze and evaluate the site for potential hazards and provide recommendations to the department.

• What were AECOM’s findings in testing the soil in Kekaha?

AECOM took the following steps:

· On July 19, 2013, a survey was sent out to all residents in the subdivision to ask for information regarding any debris found in their lots.  A total of 26 out of 49 responses were received.  If a report was made it was mostly glass or metal debris except for two lots closest to the former cane haul road where asphalt debris was reported.

· AECOM also reviewed historical data for clues as to former uses of the site to determine possible sources of contamination, environmental reviews, interviews with the original construction team, etc.

· Based on this information, a Phase 1 Environmental Assessment was completed October 2013.

· A Phase 2 sampling plan is being developed which will involve groundwater and soil sampling based on the Phase 1 report.

· Upon completion of the Phase 2 Assessment and assuming no toxic contaminants are found, DHHL will plan for clean up of the gross contamination.

• What is DHHL doing to address the problems?

Pending the AECOM recommendations, DHHL will take the appropriate actions necessary to remediate the situation.

Also, in my story, I plan to focus on the Kalawahine Streamside case involving Denise Kaaa and her family. I’d like to include DHHL’s perspective on the Kaaa case, including whether DHHL agrees with Ms. Kaaa’s contention that her home is unsafe because of the water infiltration, soil settling and other problems.

DHHL disputes Ms. Kaaa’s claims as against DHHL.  DHHL continues to work towards a resolution of Ms. Kaaa’s and the other lessees’ complaints through the mediation process.  To increase the chances of a resolution, as well as to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the mediation process, DHHL will not offer additional public comments this time.

In her Jan. 8, 2013, letter to Jobie Masagatani, Ms. Kaaa proposed that DHHL relocate her family to a DHHL lot in Kapolei. Is that a proposal that DHHL considers feasible and is considering?

See above.

I spoke to a Kekaha homesteader, Harold Vidinha, this afternoon about the problems he’s had with his home and lot. He says he’s been fighting with DHHL for more than three years, and the problems still are not resolved. He said the defects in the home (exposed wiring to ceiling light fixtures, cracked tub, etc.) still are not fixed and that the glass and metal debris and chunks of tar still surface at his property, especially after heavy rains or, in the case of the tar, at the height of the summer heat.

I’ll be mentioning his case fairly prominently in the story, so if you’d like to provide the department’s perspective on his case, that would be appreciated. A general statement about what the agency is doing to address Mr. Vidinha’s concerns would be sufficient, along with what DHHL is doing about the subdivision-wide problem of metal and glass debris found in the ground (as noted in the AECOM summary) and the tar chunks that surface on certain lots, including the Vidinha’s. Mr. Vidinha says DHHL should have plenty of documentation about his situation.

As previously stated, upon completion of the Phase 2 Assessment by AECOM and assuming no toxic contaminants are found, DHHL will plan for the remediation of the debris problem on Mr. Vidinha’s lot.  DHHL was previously not aware of Mr. Vidinha’s complaints regarding the construction of his house, which would be the responsibility of the house contractor.