Kaua’i dams report due

Following catastrophic flooding that took three lives in Kilauea last week, and left four others missing and feared dead, emergency dam inspectors from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources have conducted detailed examinations of all reservoirs and dams on the island, and are taking much more closer looks at specific reservoirs in East and West Kaua’i because of erosion around them.

Alexander & Baldwin’s Alexander Dam in Kalaheo, and the Twin Reservoir in Kapahi, which includes one of two dams reportedly owned by movie star and singer Bette Midler, have captured the interest of inspectors, state officials said at a news conference on O’ahu Thursday.

Neither reservoir poses an immediate threat of breaching, but conditions around them deserve checking into to ensure the public’s safety, said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, state adjutant general, who heads the state Civil Defense Agency.

Also attending the news conference were Rod Haraga, who heads the state Department of Transportation; Ed Teixeira, the vice director of Civil Defense; Peter Young, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Board of Land and Natural Resources; and Sandy Kunimoto, chairwoman of the state Board of Agriculture.

Lee said that, while the structural integrity of the two dams is not in question, inspection-team members spotted two landslides below the Alexander Dam.

The landslides raised questions about the stability of the soil around the dam, which Kauai Coffee Company officials draw water from to irrigate 1,400 acres of coffee from Koloa to ‘Ele’ele, Kunimoto said.

Kauai Coffee Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin (A&B).

Officials said the landslides may have occurred before the recent round of heavy rains that produced flooding across the island over the last week.

The Twin Reservoir in Kapahi has drawn attention because of erosion at the base of one of the two dams that make up the reservoir, officials said in a press conference that The Garden Island staff was patched into via telephone.

But that reservoir poses no danger to anyone at this point, because the water level is low, said Bob Masuda, deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, during a news conference on Kaua’i earlier this week.

Some farmers are just starting to use water from that reservoir, Lee said yesterday.

Masuda, meanwhile, didn’t attend yesterday’s news conference, and was on Kaua’i instead to continue to help coordinate the recovery effort.

Lee said that, in addition to inspecting the Alexander Dam and the Twin Reservoir, the engineers anticipated completing their reports on the condition of all 54 reservoirs on Kaua’i by today.

From his perspective, Lee said none of the reservoirs seem to pose a threat to life or property at this time.

Lee said the engineers are working with the owners of the two dams.

Jurassic Kahili Ranch owners own Morita Reservoir, while leaders of the Mary N. Lucas Trust Estate own Ka Loko Reservoir.

In the case of the A&B dam, efforts also are under way to clear spillways of the structure, officials said.

Officials also have said U.S. Geological Survey team members have placed “water-level-sensing devices” at the Ka Loko and Pu’u Ka Ele reservoirs in Kilauea, and the Waita Reservoir in Koloa.

A similar device will be installed at the Alexander Dam in the next few days, officials said.

Lee also said he will be asking Gov. Linda Lingle to extend an emergency proclamation for the state until April 1, to allow for more emergency services to be rendered, if necessary.

He said he expects surveys on all the dams in the state to be completed by the end of April.

Related to dam inspections, Young said he and his staff members are forming plans for experts with the DLNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to inspect all dams in Hawai’i, starting with those in Maui County, then those in Hawai’i County and, lastly, those on O’ahu.

Young said he has requested $5 million from members of the state Legislature to fund more-thorough inspections of the dams.

On the inspections of dams on Kaua’i, Lee said private owners of such structures have worked cooperatively with government officials thus far. The paperwork will offer a window into the condition of the dams, he said, adding he expects the delivery of “probably more next week than we are receiving now.”

Teixeira said state personnel will be persistent in securing that information.

“We will follow up with any dam owner who doesn’t respond,” he said, emphasizing the investigation of the flooding disaster in Kilauea has been initiated by lawyers in the state Department of the Attorney General.

Meanwhile, Haraga said DOT officials are “currently working on the final solution to Highway 56 (Kuhio Highway near Kilauea, where just one lane of traffic is open),” and is looking to take one step forward to “fix the highway.”

DOT leaders are working with four separate owners of land that abuts the highway in reaching that goal, Haraga said.

A part of the work will involve work on a 12-foot-di-ameter culvert that sits under the highway, through and over which more than 300 million gallons of water from the Ka Loko Reservoir surged around 5:30 a.m. on March 14.

The Wailapa Stream was no more than a trickle before that moment, but the flooding created a swath 150 yards across the stream in its wake.

The flooding destroyed two homes in which seven persons lived, resulting in the death of three persons. Four others remain missing, and are feared dead.

Haraga also said only one lane of the two-lane Kuhio Highway remains open, but plans for call for a contractor to start rebuilding the highway in a month or two.

Haraga said DOT leaders have no plans to close the highway during construction, unless heavy equipment is used. The work at hand now is to shore up the highway’s embankment.

“There are guardsman on Kaua’i who are on standby to assist you” in finishing the joint preliminary-damage assessments, a list of damages to government and public properties that could be eligible for re-imbursements by officials of the federal government, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said.

Meanwhile, Kunimoto said efforts are being made to get in touch with as many Kaua’i farmers as possible, who suffered losses from flooding and heavy rains.

She said her staff members have been gathering information from them, and encouraged farmers to pay a visit to a disaster assistance and recovery center at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center, which will operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

A similar center will open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center.

In an e-mail to The Garden Island, Mary Daubert, the county’s public information officer, said representatives from government agencies will be at the centers.

In other matters:

  • Members of member agencies of the Hawaii State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (HSVOAD) have joined forces to help people whose homes have been damaged by the heavy rains and flooding on Kaua’i and O’ahu, according to a news release. People can call Aloha United Way’s toll-free help line, 211, for more information. HSVOAD Chair Havinne Okamura said the assistance being offered includes general cleaning and debris removal;
  • United States Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai’i, will tour devastated areas in Kilauea in a National Guard Black Hawk today, and will visit the disaster-assistance center in Kilauea.
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