William Aila
William Aila

BY JIM DOOLEY – The price of a $187,000 sole source contract awarded in June to a politically-connected consulting firm must be increased if problems in the State Historic Preservation Division office are to be fixed before a federal deadline expires next year, legislators were told today.

The office, known as SHPD, is in danger of losing $500,000 in annual federal grants because the National Parks Service last year classified SHPD as a “high risk grantee.”

In June, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees SHPD, awarded a $187,000 sole-source contract to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s political ally and pollster Raynard Soon to straighten out the problems in SHPD.

Another company offered to do the work for $96,000 but was disqualified because its bid was submitted 11 minutes late. That left Soon’s company, Solutions Pacific, LLC, as the sole bidder.

Soon is a former head of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and served nine years on the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He helped plan Abercrombie’s transition into office following the governor’s first-term election victory in November.

Today Soon and William Aila, chairman of DLNR, told state lawmakers that the price of the contract will have to be increased because it doesn’t cover the cost of clearing a huge backlog of work that federal authorities say must be eliminated to insure continued grant funding.

“DLNR did not give us money for the backlog,” said Soon, explaining that more personnel must be hired to address the issue.

When state Rep. Sharon Har, D-40th, (Royal Kunia, Makakilo, Kapolei, Kalaeloa), asked how much more money is needed, Aila and Soon said they would report details to the Legislature later.

“We need to throw bodies at (the backlog),” said Puaalaokalani Aiu, SHPD administrator.

SHPD must review and approve development projects to assure that historic and culturally significant sites are protected and preserved.  SHPD’s federal funding is nearly half of the agency’s $1.1 million annual budget and is spent reviewing projects that are on federal land or are financed by the federal government.

Loss of federal grants would have serious economic consequences for the state and would slow or stop major public works, including the $5.1 billion Honolulu rapid transit project as well as highway and bridge construction and repair around the state, lawmakers were told today.

Due to budget cuts and an “exodus” of trained personnel from SHPD in recent years, the agency is now operating with half its normal complement of employees, Aila and Aiu said.

Recruiting qualified replacements has been a challenge because of lower pay scales for state jobs, Aila said.

Some money has been made available for new hires, but SHPD could use supplemental appropriations from the Legislature, he said.

He expressed confidence that the state will achieve results that will satisfy federal demands for improvement.

Melia Lane-Kamahele, acting head of the National Park Service here, said her office has been working closely with SHPD.

“We’re moving forward,” she said, adding that she is “confident” the state will achieve the required improvements.

Aila and Aiu said they did not know exactly what would happen if the state fails to meet next year’s compliance deadline.

“We’re going to comply,” said Aila.

The hearing today was a joint meeting of four legislative committees – two each from the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com