Disaster ‘potentially lethal’ to bay

An estimated foot of mud from the March 14 disaster at Kilauea still covers the reef at Kilauea Bay, said an informed observer with some experience in these matters.

Amy Marvin, who has been a loud voice for Pila‘a Bay near where she lives, joined the chorus of voices of citizens, elected officials, environmental groups and others calling for an independent investigation into the cause of the Ka Loko Reservoir dam breach that claimed seven lives and caused millions of dollars in damages.

“Everything hinges on that” investigation, she said in a telephone interview yesterday, calling once again on state Attorney General Mark J. Bennett to step aside and allow an unbiased expert to conduct an investigation into the cause or causes of the breach.

Bennett at one time was a partner with William McCorriston, who represents —reservoir owner Jimmy Pflueger, and many people have questioned Bennett’s ability to conduct an impartial investigation.

Bennett could not be reached for comment yesterday. A call for comment from David Minkin, one of Pflueger’s attorneys, also was not returned yesterday.

“We don’t have a lot of faith” in the state investigation process with Bennett in charge, said Marvin, who has a pending civil lawsuit against Pflueger for damages she said were done to her home and property by Pflueger’s un-permitted land work on property above hers.

Bennett was on Kaua‘i yesterday, a staff member in his office confirmed. Marvin said he went to Ka Loko Reservoir with Pflueger, but that could not be independently confirmed.

Marvin was also involved in matters that led to state Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigations that led to Pflueger being fined for clean-water violations associated with polluted runoff fouling Pila‘a Bay and reef.

Marvin hopes the investigation will pinpoint human responsibility for the disaster.

Bennett, she said, should support a “fair, independent investigation. There’s been a lot of reef damage, again.”

Peter Young, chair of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said via telephone yesterday that DLNR marine biologists have visited the area, and are in the process of finalizing their analysis of impacts of the debris and sediment on the streams and bay.

As far as debris cleanup, Young said it is his understanding that the National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture may come up with funding, and county officials are charged with making an application to get that funding to do the work.

Marvin said a state Department of Health Environmental Health Services Clean Water inspector has conducted inspections of the shoreline and streams.

Janice Okubo, state DOH spokesperson, said that if the investigation is leading towards an enforcement action, she would not comment on specifics of the investigation.

No information on that inspection was available yesterday.

The loss of human life associated with the March 14 disaster at Kilauea is not the only thing members of the Sierra Club on Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i are concerned about, they said in a press release.

“As a result of the Ka Loko (Reservoir) dam breach, Kilauea Bay has suffered from a long-term, massive quantity of muddy runoff which has a severe and potentially lethal impact on the coral reef and reliant marine life,” said Melody Heidel, conservation organizer with the Sierra Club Hawai‘i Chapter.

“This damage must be addressed,” she said.

“A similar runoff event into nearby Pila‘a Bay was significant enough in its violation of the Clean Water Act to result in the recent fine of several million dollars to the responsible party, Jimmy Pflueger,” she continued.

“The outfall of the Ka Loko flooding is larger in its amount and duration, and therefore its impact, and deserves the immediate and thorough attention of the relevant county, state and federal agencies,” said Heidel.

She added that members of the Sierra Club Hawai‘i Chapter also express their full support for a full investigation of the Ka Loko Reservoir dam breach, and “a careful restoration of the Wailapa Stream, Kilauea River and Kilauea Bay environments.”

The March 14 events resulted in “the severe alteration of watershed features and massive deposition of sediment.

“In addressing the effects of the flooding, it is critical that the cleanup includes the removal of debris and sediment which has accumulated in the affected waterways, and to stabilize them to prevent the further erosion of vegetation and soil,” Heidel said.

“In the wake of such devastating damage, we must mitigate further loss by conducting a thorough cleanup and stabilization of the tributaries and bay affected by the Ka Loko dam breach, to ensure the continued health and safety of the marine environment,” she concluded.


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