Hale Mahaolu faces $155K in fines for citations

The state has cited Hale Mahaolu and issued proposed fines of more than $155,000 for failing to notify tenants and contractors of the presence of asbestos, for not training employees in proper removal and for not performing exposure monitoring in six units at the Lahaina Surf.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division issued two citations, one “willful” and the other “serious,” Tuesday and Hale Mahaolu, a nonprofit agency that manages hundreds of affordable housing units for the elderly and lower income families, has until Friday to rectify the problems.

“Hale Mahaolu management admitted that they knew that some of the units they managed were built with asbestos-containing material,” said Bill Kunstman, state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations spokesman in an email Friday.

The nonprofit agency had previously hired licensed asbestos abatement contractors, but for work done in 2013 at the Lahaina Surf, the agency “failed to conduct air monitoring work done by its own employees” and “failed to inform” contractors hired to work on removal and the tenants of those six units of the presence of asbestos, he said.

Those facts led to the “willful” violation and the $154,000 in proposed fines, according to the citation issued by the division.

The “serious” citation involved failing to adequately train its employees assigned to work on the asbestos removal. That citation resulted in a proposed $1,375 fine.

Hale Mahaolu violated Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health standards, “which require that parties must be informed of the presence of asbestos when it falls within the scope of their work,” said Kunstman.

He said that Hale Mahaolu has three options – to pay the proposed $155,375 in penalties, to ask for an informal conference to discuss remedies and prevention and negotiate lower penalties or to contest the citations. The agency has 20 days to indicate its intention to seek an informal conference, he added.

Roy Katsuda, executive director of Hale Mahaolu, said Friday that the nonprofit’s attorneys were reviewing the citation, and that he could not comment.

These violations were reported to the state in the summer by a once high-ranking Hale Mahaolu employee, Robyne Nishida Nakao. She said that asbestos was not properly being removed from ceiling and floor tiles in Lahaina Surf apartments.

In an interview with The Maui News in June, Nishida Nakao said that she reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Division that Hale Mahaolu employees were not trained in proper handling and disposal of suspected asbestos when they removed material from the Lahaina Surf. She also said that employees did not have proper equipment and that there was no air monitoring during the asbestos removal.

At the time, Nishida Nakao said that asbestos abatement was immediately needed in two or three Lahaina Surf units. About 88 percent of the 112 units have asbestos, she said.

Nishida Nakao also alleged that she was demoted in retaliation for continuously pressing the safety issue with Katsuda. Kunstman said that the whistle-blower investigation is not yet complete.

Hale Mahaolu, formed 46 years ago, manages 14 affordable housing properties for the elderly and low-income families, or about 1,000 rental units in Maui County.

In 2011, the nonprofit had $9 million in expenses and total revenue of $9.95 million, according to its Form 990 report to the Internal Revenue Service.

* Lee Imada can be reached at