HONOLULU (KHON2) — Preparing for re-entry, strengthening emergency response and standing up a new department — it’s some of the priorities for Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen six weeks following the fires.
KHON2 News spoke with the mayor to talk about the progress and challenges in an exclusive interview.
Full uncut interview with Mayor Bissen:
Monday will mark the first time some residents will be able to return to their properties in Lahaina. It’s part of the county’s re-entry program.
Mayor Bissen told KHON2, it’s been a difficult process to get approved, but his team is preparing to make sure everything goes smoothly.
“I know this Friday is when people will be able to receive passes,” said Bissen. “We did some walk-throughs with our teams, so that we know what to expect and try our best to anticipate some of the issues that might come up.”
Another date weighing on residents minds Oct. 8, the return of tourism to West Maui.
KHON2 asked the mayor what will happen to impacted residents staying in hotels as shelter when that date arrives.
What I do want to clear up is that there are people who were not impacted by the fires who have taken up shelter or people who were previously without residence before the fires those folks because there were no questions asked in the first 30 days we’re allowed to receive supplies receive housing, receive meals. What happens after 30 days I’ve learned from the Red Cross and FEMA, once they verify eligibility anyone who cannot establish that they were impacted by the Lahaina or cooler fire will not be allowed to remain in those hotels because they were not intended for folks who were previously without homes.”Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen
Mayor Bissen said he’s also working on bribing more community voices to the table through the Lahaina Advisory Group.
He’s also creating a new recovery department to make sure the needs of the community are met when it comes to infrastructure, housing, transpiration and much more.
Community meetings with the new department and advisory group will be held on Friday and Sunday.
“Our mantra has been, this is obviously community lead government supported, and by doing that the community would advise us,” said Bissen. “You can’t always please everyone you can’t always get to 100% agreement on everything, but this is our approach we’re trying to have as much input from the community.”
As far as the mayor’s and county’s efforts behind the scenes, KHON2 asked what’s his message to the community about his efforts personally to help governments response during this phase?
Well, of course, lots and lots and lots of meetings learning from other cities and towns who have gone through this tragedy about how we can better respond, of course improving our emergency management preparation, and response has also been something that we have learned and benefited from and are already implementing. So I think most of what our focus has been on is educating ourselves, learning about the approach the other places who have had success and failures, telling us what to avoid, telling us what areas to perhaps spend more focus on.Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen
“No one is giving up no one going anywhere. We the county will be there every step of the way,” Bissen continued. “The community feels a sense of anxiety and uncertainty, so what we need to bring is stability and security and to let people know that it is safe and that we will recover from this and will do it as a group together. Everyone has been saying ‘Maui strong Maui no ka oi.'”
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The mayor is looking forward to the community meetings coming up, the first one being on Friday in Lahaina.