Built almost a century ago, the Lawai Cannery is disappearing into history

The Lawai Cannery has been the most prominent structure in rural Lawa’i since it opened as a pineapple packing factory in 1907.

This week demolition of the hurricane-ravaged complex is almost completed, done at a cost of about $435,000, according to Don Lutao, a code enforcement officer for the building division of the county’s Public Works Department.

The impetus for the demolition came about two years ago when Kaua’i County filed a condemnation suit to have the Lawai Cannery the ordered the razing of the last pineapple industry building on Kaua’i’s South Shore and Westside.

The old cannery was built in 1907 and expanded over the years. The Lawai Cannery was one of three pineapple canneries on Kaua’i; Hawaiian Canneries was formed at Kapa’a in 1913 and Hawaiian Fruit Packers opened in 1932 in Kapahi.

Commercial pineapple growing began on Kaua’i at Lawa’i in 1906 when Walter McBryde and other Kaua’i businessmen formed Kauai Fruit & Land Co. as a subsidiary of McBryde Sugar Co. The first pineapples were packed in 1907. Pineapples were generally grown on “kula” lands that weren’t prime for sugar growing. Pineapple growing required minimal irrigation compared to the thirsty sugar fields.

Pineapples packed at the Lawai Cannery were grown by McBryde’s company and by homesteaders at Kalaheo and other nearby towns. Building the cannery near the pineapple fields saved transportation costs.

The Lawai Cannery building fell into disrepair after Kauai Pineapple Company closed in 1964. Since then Hurricane ‘Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992, plus normal aging, caused parts of the roof to collapse, causing some walls to buckle.

Lutao said Kaua’i County repeatedly asked past owners to make repairs and to make the building safe, but the requests were not heeded.

Most recently, Walter Zane Realty owned the cannery building and 14.5 acres, zone primarily for commercial use, said architect Avery Youn, who is representing the property’s current own MJO Investment Inc. of Long Beach, Ca.

Following a foreclosure of the property MJO bought the cannery site and is now proposing to build a 72,000-square-foot warehouse on the site.

MJO plans to apply to the county Planning Commission for permits for the project. The public will be able to offer comment on the proposal at forthcoming public hearings.

If MJO gets the green light, its project, the Lawai Cannery Row Business Park, will be leased to contractors and will be used for mini-storage and as warehouse space for “industrial-related businesses,” Youn said.

The building, parts of which had second-story structures, had a footprint of about 75,000 square feet, Youn said.

Asbestos has been safely removed during the demolition of the old Lawai Cannery over the past week, said a representative for the project.

In addition, 114 abandoned cars were removed from the old cannery building and were taken to a county metal disposal center in Puhi. Rodents also were cleared from the old building before the work began, Youn said.

The asbestos-removal project is part of a plan by the property owner, MJO Investment Inc. of Long Beach, Ca., to clear the site for a new 72,000-square-foot commercial warehouse, according to Avery Youn.

Monitors MJO had placed at the old cannery site showed the work posed no danger to the neighborhood, Youn said.

At least one neighbor raised concerns asbestos particles could become airborne and cause health problems.

Asbestos has been used as a fire-retardent material in the construction of buildings in the United States, but the federal government has banned several asbestos products because of health concerns.

Continued exposure could result in fibers collecting in the lungs and raise the risk for cancer, medical authorities say.

But, monitors showed the presence of asbestos and lead at the work site were well within the safety standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Youn said.

Ohana Environmental Construction Inc., an O’ahu company licensed by the state to handle asbestos, removed the asbestos and package the debris before it was disposed of, Youn said.

Garden Island Disposal transported the materials in covered dumpsters to the landfill, where they were inspected before they were buried, Youn said.

Tom Lileikis, an environmental specialist with the state Department of Health’s noise, radiation and indoor air quality branch, said the department received reports of the work and, had there been problems, would have ordered the asbestos removal project halted.

“We did everything that was in accordance with the department of health requirements,” Youn said.

The asbestos-removal project was scheduled to be completed Friday.

The remaining demolition work includes removing of debris and recycling of metals, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of next week.

The removal of the asbestos began after the Kaua’i County Public Works Department issued a demolition permit to MJO on Aug 7.

As part of the work, a plastic canopy was put over the areas where asbestos was removed, Youn said.

Workers in protective suits with masks and gloves removed the asbestos, which was sealed in plastic bags and was properly disposed of, Youn said.

The demolition work also involved the removal of painted roofing materials, walls and pipes that contained lead, Youn said. The work areas were watered down to prevent lead particles from becoming airborne, he said.

Pacific Commercial Services, an O’ahu-based hazardous waste specialist, also removed an underground storage tank and soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a toxin that is recognized to cause cancer and birth defects.

Barrels with the contaminated soil were shipped to a Mainland facility for disposal.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

– TGI Editor Chris Cook contributed to this report.

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