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Maui officials push to speed up permits to rebuild after deadly wildfires

Hawaiian officials are pushing to speed up the processing of building permits by opening a new center next month, in hopes it will help will Maui’s recovery from last year’s deadly wildfires.

Recovery efforts in Maui County, specifically in the town of Lahaina, have been impeded by permit processing delays — after last year’s fires nearly destroyed the entire town, caused $5.5 billion in damage and killed almost 100 people.

Keanu Lau Hee, an executive assistant with the county, announced earlier this week that a County Expedited Permitting Center would open in April. The center will assist private developers with five projects that will build over 500 housing units in the area and speed up processing times in an area known for long waits, according to The Associated Press.

University of Hawaii researchers found that in the last five years, the state’s median wait time for a construction permit to build a multifamily project was 400 days, per the AP.

The Aug. 8 wildfire destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and displaced 4,500 people in Lahaina. Lau Hee said a vast majority — 87 percent — of those who lost their homes were renters, and the rest were homeowners.

At the time, it was estimated that the recovery would take up to a year and it could cost over $1 billion.

Lau Hee said the county wants to help out homeowners with rebuilding. Their properties were damaged and infested with toxic debris that she hopes will cleared by next year.

“Our goal is to create opportunities for you folks to start rebuilding on your properties,” she said, AP reported.

The news comes as roughly 3,800 residents are still living in hotels following the fires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also worked to build temporary housing units.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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