Construction Tidbits

September, 2004


The construction industry on the Valley Isle is gearing up for the biggest resort development to hit Maui in over a decade. In April, the Maui County Council approved by a 7-2 vote the rezoning necessary to move forward a planned community comprising 1,100 homes, condominiums and apartments and an 89-unit time-share hotel just south of the Maui Prince Hotel on the southeastern coast.

The controversial development, which many Maui residents say would add to already crowded conditions, will be built on 178 acres of land owned by Seibu Railways subsidiary Makena Resort. Seibu owns a total of 1,800 acres in Makena, including the Prince and two golf courses. The 20-year plan for construction would provide a steady, lucrative source of income for construction workers and subcontractors. To get the zoning approved, Makena Resort had to agree to donate significant infrastructure improvements to the area and to use county-supplied water only for buildings and not for lawns and landscape maintenance. “You need these, because these are the types of projects that can generate the revenue, but also contribute other things to the community,” says Charles Jencks, executive director of the Maui Contractors Association. The project still must pass through two more regulatory bodies, but it looks like a good bet, considering the strength of the vote count in the council.


They are implacable foes, relentlessly facing off across Hawaii in increasingly contentious jousts over which is a better building skeleton. We’re talking about the Hawaii Steel Alliance (HSA) and the Hawaii Lumber Products Association (HLPA). The two trade organizations are battling to secure market share in the Islands’ construction market. The HSA was born in 1997, when the state’s steel- and aluminum-framing contractors and suppliers decided they needed to get their termite-proof, hurricane-resistant message across better. By 1998, Hawaii had the highest rate of steel framing in new housing starts anywhere in the world, at 35 percent. That total later grew to more than 50 percent, according to HSA. And look, Ma, no dead trees. Of course, this growth came at the expense of the lumber guys. And in December 2003 they decided to fight back, forming the HLPA, with the risqué campaign slogan “Do it with Wood!” Led by Honolulu Wood Treatment President Hap Person, the HLPA has waged a media war with the steel guys in the pages of the local press by seeding articles claiming that wood can last nearly as long as steel. What’s more, HLPA claims that wood is now mostly harvested from sustainable forest farms and is therefore even more energy efficient than steel. Just add sunshine and let ‘er rip, with no added oil costs to fuel furnaces to melt metals, the HLPA claims.

Has the HLPA made any inroads in the market with its hard sell? It’s too early to tell, but look for this dispute to keep popping up at job sites across the Islands.


While the Hawaii state government has long advocated the use of more green building materials in the Islands, progress has been slow. Many green building materials common on the Mainland, including innovative roofing materials and environmentally friendly paints and sealants, have remained less popular among contractors. This year, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) aims to change that, when it publishes a new directory of ecofriendly products available in the Aloha State. DBEDT sent out a questionnaire this summer to local product distributors and retailers asking them what environmentally friendly products they carry or plan to carry in the future. After compiling the replies and verifying the data, DBEDT will post the directory on its Web site,, in the latter half of 2004. To put some teeth behind it, DBEDT will also help state agencies and state contractors determine which of these products are suitable for their jobs. Says Gail Suzuki-Jones, an energy analyst with DBEDT’s Strategic Industries Division, “This will move the market toward providing more green products.”

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