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State hires firm to fix preservation division


The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has hired a private company to bring the Historic Preservation Division into compliance with federal mandates and avoid losing up to $550,000 in federal grant money.

DLNR Director William Aila said a staffing shortage at the division is to blame for problems that could also slow historic reviews of critical projects like rail development on Oahu.

The National Park Service, overseeing federal historic preservation grants, in an audit report in March 2010, cited various concerns about the division, including mismanagement. The report said the division was not maintaining an accessible historic properties database and that personnel reviewing projects involving historic properties were not qualified.

“We found that with limited staffing together with a multitude of tasks to complete that we wouldn’t be able to meet the timeline (to be in compliance) alone,” Aila said.

“The department determined it is in the state’s best interest to contract a consultant to meet the NPS timeline.”

The state will be awarding Solutions Pacific LLC a consultant contract of $186,387 to focus on the division to satisfy compliance issues, such as upgrading survey and inventory procedures.

Department spokeswoman Deborah Ward said division staffing reached its peak of 35 during Gov. John Waihee’s administration, but was down to 27 by 2008. Staff is now at 14 with 11 vacancies.

Ward said in the past two years, the department has been unable to fill positions due to a hiring freeze, but that will end and staffing could reach 32 by fiscal 2012 because of increased funding from the Legislature.

Critics charge the division mishandled the archaeological work at the Ward Villages shopping center, allowing the excavation to continue after 11 burials were discovered in work on only 3 percent of the project.

The federal parks report did not cover burials but included criticism about the lack of adequate survey and inventory procedures.

One of the critics, Dana Naone Hall, former chairwoman of the Maui-Lanai Island Burial Council, said Wednesday the department was wasting money on the consultant.

“In these times of budgetary restraint, the state can save itself a lot of money by replacing the leadership … Get someone in there who can do the job. Don’t just throw away money,” she said.

The department said Solutions Pacific will help develop an evaluation and retention plan for division staff.

Solutions Pacific is operated by Ray Soon, a former director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and also a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The department said the no-bid contract also includes the services of a team of former division employees, such as Don Hibbard who worked as the division administrator for 20 years ending in 2002.

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