KILAUEA — In his first public statement since waters swept away his home, daughter, grandson and others close to him nearly a month ago, Bruce Fehring of Kilauea said he and his surviving family members have achieved the closure they badly need.
All of his family members are in counseling, and wife Cyndee Fehring is taking the loss the hardest, he told reporters and close friends at the Wailapa Road home where only the carport slab and debris remains of the home of his daughter, Aurora Solveig Fehring, Alan Gareth Dingwall, and Bruce Fehring’s grandson, Rowan Dingwall-Fehring.
The bodies of Aurora Solveig Fehring, Alan Gareth Dingwall and Christina MacNees were recovered by searchers. Four others were never found: Daniel Arroyo, Wayne “Banyan” Rotstein, Tom Noonan Jr. and Rowan Dingwall-Fehring.
“I feel we have the closure that we need,” said Bruce Fehring, whose representatives initially said would not be answering questions but whom later answered every single question posed by reporters.
The home was swept away March 14 after Ka Loko Reservoir breached after weeks of heavy rains, sending what Bruce Fehring estimated to be nearly a half-billion gallons of water down Wailapa Stream from the reservoir, and eventually to the ocean.
“This is where my family’s dream was shattered,” said Fehring, who indicated that a memorial service for Aurora Solveig Fehring and Alan Gareth Dingwall, whose ashes are in urns at Fehring’s home in Kilauea town, will be held at Kahili Beach on May 21.
Their ashes will be scattered at sea, he said.
“They were all very light souls,” he said of the seven people living on his property. His daughter was both “mother hen” and “queen bee,” wise beyond her 24 years, Fehring said with a smile.
He was dismantling a make-shift memorial with pictures of the seven victims attached to an artist’s easel when he talked about how his plans to plant more pineapple, hardwoods and other trees with Rotstein were washed away with his family, friends and homes.
As much as he is still very much dealing with the personal tragedy, he took his first opportunity to speak publicly of the tragedy to call on Gov. Linda Lingle to authorize an independent investigation into the cause of the breach.
He said Lingle, who flew to Kaua’i the day after the disaster, informed him that state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials are mandated by state law to inspect reservoirs, but hadn’t done so in years.
Asked what he would say to Lingle if he were face to face with her, Fehring replied that he would ask her why those DLNR officials charged with inspecting reservoirs who did not do their jobs are still working for the DLNR.
Further, he said he would ask Lingle to authorize the independent investigation, a feeling expressed also earlier by Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, members of the Kaua’i County Council, state Rep. Mina Morita, D-Hanalei-Kapa’a, state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau, and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Durban O’ahu.
“For this, we give thanks,” Fehring said in a statement he said he wrote Sunday night.
“The state should be doing this now,” Abercrombie said of the independent investigation.
“A lot of good people are asking for this, not only on Kaua’i,” said Hooser, who said he was at the Kilauea gathering first and foremost to support members of the Fehring family and others impacted.
Hooser called on Bennett to “step aside, do the right thing,” and let an independent investigation take place, “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Such an investigation needs to be thorough and credible. “We need both,” said Hooser. “I think you need the cooperation of the attorney general.”
Abercrombie said that, if Lingle wants an independent investigation to take place, it will be done.
“The story coming to light is not four weeks old or four months old, nor is it four years old. It is decades old,” Fehring said in his prepared statement.
“Residents of Kilauea, Moloa’a, Ko’olau, Pila’a, Waiakalua and Kalihiwai have been seeking answers to questions about stream diversions and altered water flows in the mauka lands for years and years.
“Unfortunately, their concerns have been ignored, ineffectively shuffled around in bureaucratic buck-passing, or simply buried,” he continued.
“Powerful private interests have been allowed to take priority over public safety. Now is the time for this to end, so that there is as little chance as possible that such an occurrence is ever repeated.”
Talking with reporters after reading the prepared statement, Fehring said, “I’m dealing with it,” the “grief, sorrow, reality that this should never have happened. But we are a strong, tight family, and we will survive.”
No one would blame him if he called for Ka Loko Reservoir to be dismantled. But, he wants it rebuilt, along with Morita Reservoir, “correctly,” maintained, inspected, with water-level-measuring devices, for the benefit of his neighbors who rely on the water for their crops.
“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this,” he said, intimating that because Bennett was once partners with William McCorriston, who represents Ka Loko Reservoir part-owner James Pflueger, that Bennett might not be the right man to conduct the Ka Loko Reservoir investigation.
He said representatives of insurance companies have been denying claims of those property owners who experienced losses but who do not have flood insurance, saying the damage was done by flooding.
“This was no flood,” he said.
“What occurred was not an act of nature. It was a failure of man,” he added.
“The true story of how this happened, the history and the circumstances and the way that it came to happen, must be told, and that can only be done fairly and without concern for bias, by a vigorous, effective, experienced and independent investigator,” he stressed.
“It is imperative that an outside investigator, with no ties to the state or private parties, be retained, immediately, before critical evidence is lost. Time is of the essence, and the truth hangs in the balance,” Fehring continued.
“Politics have to be taken out of this as soon as possible,” Abercrombie said. “The state should be doing this now.”
This was a personal and ecological disaster, with the raging waters taking away soil, topsoil, subsoil, and changing a portion of the Kilauea River that used to be between 10 to 12 feet deep to now only two to three feet deep because of sediment collecting there, Fehring said.
Terraced lo’i and ancient home sites in the valley were washed away, making also for an archaeologist’s nightmare, said Fehring, who asked for a moment of silence in memory of the victims, gave thanks “for the precious time we did share with our loved ones,” and to the searchers, Gina Kaulukukui and others with Kaua’i Hospice, people from the Hawai’i Community Foundation, “and for the incredible support of our many close friends and extended ‘ohana for being there for us when we most needed them.”
- Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org.