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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

Forthright approach to rockfall

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

When something happens that threatens lives and property, the unwritten rule seems to be to keep quiet.

Say the situation has to be evaluated. Avoid any action that might be interpreted as assuming responsibility. Wait and hope people forget enough for things to be settled quietly out of court.

Which makes what Grace Pacific Corp. executives did on Monday morning quite extraordinary.

They said they did it.

The call came during a morning staff meeting — a 1,000-pound boulder fell onto H-1 Freeway near the Makakilo quarry and was struck by an SUV. People were hurt. What do we do?

To get to the site, Grace Pacific crews had to work their way backward, from the Wai'anae side. They got there before the state crews. Grace Pacific removed the boulder before they realized it was their rock.

"The first priority was to provide assistance," says the company's vice president of marketing, Sidney Quintal. "People were injured."

Once they assessed the situation, president and CEO Robert Wilkinson said it was obvious that work at the quarry caused the rock to fall. He issued a statement to that effect.

"You can't demand integrity from your employees if you don't practice it from the top," Wilkinson says. "Our situation wouldn't be any worse if we took responsibility right away. It's better than having lawyers argue over responsibility for months in court and then come to the same conclusion. If we're going to give out money, I'd rather give it to the victims than attorneys."

State Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa says there are no disciplinary measures pending against Grace Pacific in the incident.

"I give them credit for being forthcoming about it," Ishikawa said. "We're still going to ask them to put something in writing just on the preventative measures they're going to take the next time they do similar work next to the freeway."

Grace Pacific is working on that plan.

"We want to make sure the community knows we've checked the rock formations up there and they're pretty stable," Quintal says. "We don't want them to worry when they drive past the quarry."

As for the unusual public relations strategy of upfront honesty, Wilkinson says, "I'm a Midwest boy. I believe things will die down fast if you just tell people what happened and answer their questions up front."

Two women were seriously injured when the SUV hit the boulder in the road.

"We sent them flowers in the hospital," Wilkinson said.

Added Quintal, "And we said we were sorry."