Hawai’i Attorney General Mark Bennett said this week he does not take personally public comments saying he isn’t in a position to objectively investigate the causes of the Ka Loko Reservoir dam breach because he was formerly a partner with William Mc-Corriston, who represents reservoir owner Jimmy Pflueger.
“It is an unfortunate facet of public life. It just goes with the job,” he said.
“These are things that are going to happen,” Bennett said in a telephone interview.
“I can’t take this personally, especially because I know the people of Kaua’i want the job done right,” said Bennett.
“I’m very concerned that some of the calls for the AG’s office to be off the case are because some people don’t want an aggressive, vigorous investigation,” he said, reacting to some of McCorriston’s published statements about wishing those in the AG’s office off the case.
Bennett said he won’t rest until the “exact scientific reasons of the tragedy are known,” and has no second thoughts about his actions in launching an investigation with off-island dam experts the day after the March 14 breach.
“We wanted to make absolutely sure” that there would be no questions, as happened after Hurricane Katrina rocked New Orleans, about why somebody didn’t respond immediately, he said.
Also, he didn’t want to risk losing any evidence, and acted quickly to ensure the “safety of the people of Kaua’i,” he said.
Repeatedly throughout the interview, Bennett talked about his “great sympathy” for those who suffered human and property losses as a result of the flooding, which claimed seven lives.
Earlier this week, Bennett toured the Ka Loko Reservoir area with McCorriston, Pflueger, some of Pflueger’s Kaua’i employees, and some of Bennett’s investigators and experts, as part of the ongoing investigation that may or may not result in criminal charges being filed, he said.
“The investigation will involve other investigative tools at the site, an exact scientific survey” including high-water marks, exact location of the dam, and other evidence, that will give independent experts (one from Honolulu and one from Los Angeles) retained by Bennett everything they need to pinpoint the “precise causes of the breach,” he said.
He said the call to retain the independent dam experts was a no-brainer, and it is fortunate they were willing and available to be able to come to the island by March 15.
Bennett and the dam experts were all concerned they might lose evidence if they didn’t start their investigation immediately after the breach.
About calls about him to step aside in favor of an independent investigation, he said, “I have no objection to an investigation outside the AG’s office. I said that from the start.”
But no federal officials have shown interest in leading their own investigation, and Bennett does not have the power to authorize an investigation not involving attorneys or staff in his office, or retained experts, he continued.
He can retain special deputy attorneys general, or outside experts like the dam specialists, but that is about it, he said.
Members of the state Legislature, on the other hand, have the power to set up a special investigative committee, as they did when special-education services of the state Department of Education and state Department of Health were questioned by federal officials, Bennett explained.
Committee members could arm themselves with subpoena power, said Bennett, who welcomed members of the state Legislature to do just that.
Still, the only ongoing investigation into the cause or causes of the Ka Loko Reservoir breach is the one in his office, and he plans on seeing it to fruition.
“I believe that our office is certainly capable” of completing a fair, diligent, full investigation, he said.
Also this week, Randall Iwase, a Democratic candidate for governor, called for an independent investigation into the causes of the Ka Loko Reservoir dam breach.
He said the degree of loss of life and property, the fact that Pflueger and his family members contributed thousands of dollars to Gov. Linda Lingle’s campaign, the fact that McCorriston represents Pflueger and is a former partner of both Bennett and First Deputy Attorney General Lisa Ginoza, and the public and victims’ demands for an independent investigation, all warrant an independent investigation as the correct course of action.
- Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com .