The recent Maui fire has sparked an outcry from the local people against the Biden curtain, a mile-long dust screen proposed by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to a letter issued by FEMA, the local government asked them to “pause on posting on social media and else images of damage/disaster/debris starting now,” purportedly out of respect for those who perished.
The controversy only heated up more when people started noticing the black cloth fences around miles of the affected area in Lahaina and speculating why they were there. Many have even started calling it the Biden curtain. Reports of people being chased away have further bolstered this suspicion. Some have wondered if there may be an effort to hide something.
The official explanation for the presence of the screen is to keep potentially hazardous materials like dust and ash from the burned areas from affecting highways throughout the area. The wall may stretch for five miles and be up to 12 feet high, taking about a month to build and likely being there for at least a year.
The construction under the Emergency Relief Fund from the Federal Highway Administration and the use of some state dollars is expected to cost about $2.4 million. According to Robin Shishido, the Hawaii Department of Transportation’s Deputy Director for Highways, the screening is necessary to “provide safe access to West Maui.”
The Biden curtain has come under significant criticism due to the former vice-president’s notorious stance on the effectiveness of border walls. Some also feel like the long time frame for the project is a huge inconvenience for the people living in the affected area.
What started as a plea to respect the dead has quickly turned into a heartbreaking tragedy for the people of Maui. It may be ironic for a Biden-led project to be scrutinized for its appearances of secrecy and unpopularity, however, the emergence of a black curtain only creates more unrest and fear within the people.
There should be more transparency surrounding the entire process to ensure that the people of Maui genuinely feel like their interests are being protected. The feelings of distrust among the people should be addressed before the curtain even goes up. Without securing the trust and partnership of the people of Maui, any attempts at helping them out could backfire and lead to agency dissatisfaction.