Herkes bill seeks to give counties leeway in building codes


BY NANCY COOK LAUER | WEST HAWAII TODAY

HILO — A bill moving through the state Legislature will take out what many consider the more onerous sections of the state building code and give counties more flexibility in defining their own codes.

Rep. Bob Herkes, D-Puna, Ka'u, South Kona, North Kona, said he sponsored HB 2358 because of his concern strict requirements for buildings, such as requiring safe rooms able to withstand 500-year hurricanes, would push home ownership out of the reach of Big Island residents.

"A house with four walls and a roof is still better than living in caves, lava tubes and packing crates," Herkes told West Hawaii Today.

Herkes' bill, which passed unanimously Friday through the House Committee on Water, Land & Ocean Resources, also limits members of the Hawaii State Building Code Council to two consecutive terms. It adds three members of the general public to the council and also strips county building officials of their voting status, although they remain on the council.

County Department of Public Works Director Warren Lee did not return a phone message Monday seeking comment.

Herkes' bill also sets up a Natural Disaster Preparedness Commission made up of scientists established within the Civil Defense Agency that would evaluate earthquake and hurricane risks and determine the necessity and effectiveness of proposed building code amendments as they pertain to natural disasters preparedness.

"We want to find a balance between safety and cost," Herkes said.

The state building code has been a hot topic on the Big Island, where the County Council last week passed Draft 7 of the controversial legislation. The 7-2 vote came only after a dozen police officers swarmed into the chambers to evict a rowdy crowd chanting "kill this bill."

R.J. Hampton, one of the opponents, said she's filing a complaint with the state Office of Information Practices on the bill, because she contends amendments were not given to the public in advance of the vote.

"Did they decide this in the sunshine or was there a shady deal?" Hampton asked, adding she's "encouraged by what Rep. Herkes is trying to do."

The International Code Council, a nonprofit dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national model construction codes, as expected, opposes the bill, calling it "premature."

Kraig Stevenson, senior regional manager for ICC Government Relations, urged the Legislature to read the Uniform Statewide Building Code Task Force's 2005 report before making significant changes.

But the Building Industry Association of Hawaii supports the changes.

"BIA-Hawaii participated in the legislative informational briefing on building codes so we understand the fact that building codes have become overly excessive, increasing the costs of construction, resulting in higher costs for homeowners," said CEO Karen Nakamura in testimony to the committee.

ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com