Hawaii County is not going to meet a state-imposed deadline to revamp its building code and two county council members are prevailing upon Gov. David Ige to allow an extension.
In an Oct 20 letter to Ige, Council Chairman Aaron Chung, and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Sue Lee Loy asked for a one-year extension to get its building code completed. The county code is due by Nov. 13 or the county has to use the state code, which is generally stricter than what the county would craft to take into account its own unique circumstances.
“The counties currently maintain compliance with the existing building codes and that ensures safe building construction and occupancy,” Chung and Lee Loy said in the letter. “The current code has been in place for eight years and an extended use would not jeopardize the health and welfare of any resident of visitor.”
The State Building Code Council was established by the Legislature to adopt amendments to international fire, plumbing, building and electrical codes. Once the state council adopts its version of the codes, the counties have two years from that adoption date to make further amendments and adopt their own updates.
The governor’s office seemed to understand the county’s problems, according to a statement Friday.
“The authority to enforce the building code lies with the individual counties. The state does not have any means by which to enforce county compliance on this matter,” the governor’s office said through a spokeswoman. “However, I would encourage the counties to make local amendments and adopt the current codes as quickly as possible, and to participate in discussions on updating the codes.”
It’s not the first time the county has missed deadlines to implement its construction codes. Last year, the county didn’t take up changes to the International Energy Conservation Code until the deadline had passed and strict new regulations were put into effect that increased energy efficiency, but also raised the price of home construction. The council scrambled to submit amendments that were accepted by the state.
The energy code was then passed in February, and in August, the council adopted electrical and plumbing code updates in addition to passing a measure to reorganize the construction codes to help streamline the law.
This year, the county has a very good reason to miss the deadline, the council members say. The coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult to hold the necessary sessions to get input from stakeholders.
“As Hawaii County continues work to improve the building permit process, the last thing we need is to change the building code in the middle of a public health emergency that has made public engagement challenging,” Chung said in a statement. “These updates to the building code could necessitate changes in designs before building permits are approved. That’s why public engagement is critical to a smooth update.”
Lee Loy agreed.
“While updates to these codes are important, the more important question is whether we are ready for this change that may be coming with no public notice,” she said.