Soil Sampling, Erosion Control Signal Final Steps of USACE Debris Removal Process

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reached a significant milestone in the first week of April, surpassing 510 properties cleared of debris from the wildfires that devastated West Maui on Aug. 8, 2023.

Although close, cleared does not signify complete. There are a few remaining steps before USACE releases a property back to the county for the next phase, rebuilding.


Col. Eric Swenson, recovery field office commander, discussed the differences between cleared and completed properties during an April 3 public meeting at the Lahaina Civic Center.

“I want you to think about debris removal with two letters. It’s the same letter. I want you to think about lowercase ‘c’ and capital ‘C,'” Swenson said to the attendees. Little ‘c’ is what we’re calling cleared. That is the visible sign that your property had removed primary debris and safely stored it at a temporary disposal site. Then there’s capital ‘C,’ or maybe some people might call it big ‘C,’ which means complete.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors measure area sampled for soil contaminants from a cleared property April 5 in Lahaina, Hawaii. The samples will be sent for analysis and if negative for contaminants the lot will receive erosion control materials. USACE PHOTO BY EDWARD RIVERA

Swenson further explained that complete means that USACE contractors clear the property of primary debris, perform soil sampling and tree removal as needed, place erosion control, and return the right of entry to the county and the complete package to FEMA.

When a property owner is in the “little c” to “big C” zone, the steps to USACE completion are clear and defined. Once contractors have cleared the lot, the next step is soil sampling, which takes 10-15 days. If the initial samples return positive for contaminants, a secondary scrape will be done, adding several days to that step. If required, contractors will remove hazardous trees, which may take a few more days. Placing erosion control materials is the last step to completion on the property, and it may take from 5 to 10 days.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractor places erosion control materials on a cleared property during Phase 2 debris removal operations April 05 in Lahaina, Hawaii. Erosion control is used for soil stabilization and is the last step in the debris removal process before right of entry is relinquished back to the County of Maui. USACE PHOTO BY EDWARD RIVERA

“Once all those steps are done, and not all of them are required, we add one more number to complete, which we’re calling ‘capital C.’ This is sort of a fixed amount of time,” said Swenson. “You should rest assured that when your property gets to little C, you are looking from about 15 to 50 days to get to the next phase, permitting and rebuilding.”

For information on the debris removal program, visit or contact USACE directly at the call center, 877-214-9117 or 808-289-1805. The call center is open from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays, and from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays.

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