The price list

Since the Lahaina, Maui fires on August 8th, there has been a question of “just how much is it going to cost to restore Lahaina?” It’s not an easy question to answer because there are so many factors to consider when approaching that question.

After a few weeks, though, Bloomberg came out with its first dollar estimate of what restoration of Lahaina would cost. They pegged it at $6 billion. But again, without any framework as to what $6 billion buys you, the news felt more like the result of someone throwing a dart at a wall and finally hitting a number to report on.

The framework, it turns out, was buried in at least one of the lawsuits that was filed mere days after the fire. In the August 24th lawsuit filed by Maui County vs. Hawaiian Electric, the filing goes into some detail as to what the damages will cost the county. Considering that a lot of damage was done to public property and public utilities, it stands to reason that the County would have a pretty good idea of what it lost in the fire.

(Either that or, because of prior fires and subsequent lawsuits, lists like the one you are about to see have already been used, and all the law firm did was cut and paste for their initial filing).

Since reporting on the specifics of what was damaged, destroyed, or disrupted, read what Maui Is claiming in their filing,

As a result of Defendants’ actions and inactions, Defendants have caused Plaintiff MAUI COUNTY to suffer injuries and damages including, but not limited to, the following: loss of natural resources, open space, and public lands; loss of public parks; property damages including real and personal property; staff labor costs, including overtime labor costs; fire suppression costs including, materials, and other fire suppression damages; emergency response and rescue costs; evacuation expenses; loss of tax revenue including property, sales, and transient occupancy taxes; losses from impacts on business-like activities; costs associated with response and recovery including debris removal, and other costs; damage to infrastructure including but not limited to roads, sidewalks, water, stormwater and sewer systems, and underground infrastructure, and other public entity-owned infrastructure; damages based on soil erosion and loss of soil stability and productivity; damages related to water contamination including water quality preservation and correction expenses; loss of water storage and increased sedimentation; loss of aesthetic value; and other significant damages and losses directly related to and caused by the Maui Fires.

A further enumerated list of impacts to MAUI COUNTY includes, but is not limited to, the following:

a. Fire suppression costs;

b. Administration, funding, and operation of emergency operations centers;

c. Administration, funding, and operation of evacuation centers and shelters;

d. Securing and managing burn areas, including safe re-entry for the public;

e. Staff overtime, labor costs, personnel, and other materials;

f. Additional law enforcement costs;

g. Lost work and productivity due to public entity employees unable to return to work;

h. Loss of natural resources, open space, wildlife, and public lands;

i. Loss of parks, including damage to real property and recreational opportunities and programs, and the revenue generated therefrom;

j. Destruction or damage to public infrastructure, including but not limited to roads, sidewalks, water storage facilities, water distribution systems, sewer collection systems, stormwater systems, fire stations, and other infrastructure;

k. Damage or harm to facility and infrastructure lifespan, including water treatment facilities and landfills;

l. Costs of debris removal and related administrative obligations;

m. Costs of facilitating/administering community rebuilding efforts, staffing and administration of permitting centers;

n. Costs of administering community outreach efforts, including revisions to new ordinances, guidelines, and rules, and housing assistance programs and policies;

o. Costs of watershed, waterway, and water body management and protection;

p. Damages related to soil erosion and mitigation, loss of soil stability and productivity, including management of risk of debris flow and landslides;

q. Damages related to water contamination, including water quality preservation and correction expenses, including but not limited to repair and/or replacement of water treatment facilities or systems;

r. Loss of tax revenues such as property, sales, business, and transient occupancy taxes;

s. Loss of business like or proprietary revenues, such as airport use, facility rentals, educational and recreational programs, and others;

t. Damages related to loss of workforce housing;

u. Damages associated with tourism and economic development, such as overall branding and reputation;

v. Damages resulting from short- and long-term public health impacts, including costs to provide educational, outreach, and other services; and

w. Other impacts, injuries, and damages not yet identified, including those unique to public entities.

As a humble blogger, I find it challenging to fully comprehend the narrative and impact list of events such as the Lahaina fires. Nevertheless, when such a calamity occurs, the destruction and damage caused to a vast area are significant. It affects everything from structures to public infrastructure. Each item has a material name, and most of them come with a particular cost.

Another hurricane that hit the islands, Hurricane Iwa in 1982 also caused years of rebuilding as well as modifications to buildings and infrastructure.
PC: “Hurricane Iwa (1982)” by ForceThirteen is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Now whether $6 billion will cover all of this, the only comparison Hawai‘i has is how much it cost to rebuild Kaua‘i after Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Initial reports after the storm pegged the recovery at about $1.5 billion.

An Economic Research Organization report from the University of Hawai‘i (UHERO), published in 2009, pegged the actual cost of Kaua‘i recovery at $7.4 billion.  

Doing the math, that is about 7 times the initial estimate. So taking the initial amount of $6 billion for Lahaina, and times that by 7 – this price list that is presented by just one entity for the damages suffered could be as much as $42 billion.

The UHERO report also said that it took 7 to 8 years for Kaua‘i’s economy to recover from Iniki.

In addition to the financial toll, the Lahaina fires in Hawaii have resulted in a tragic loss of human life with 97 reported deaths, a factor not included in the price list from Maui County. It is crucial to consider the impact of this loss when determining the total cost of the fires for both Hawaii and the United States as a whole.