Disaster relief to help clear Wailapa

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i County officials will study what amounts from two federal funds can be tapped immediately to begin the removal of tons of debris that rest in Wailapa Stream nearly two months after the Ka Loko Reservoir in Kilauea breached and took seven lives.

One source of funding is a $33.5 million disaster-relief package being sought by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai‘i, for Kaua‘i and other counties affected by 42 days of rain.

County leaders also hope to tap millions that could come from federal assistance programs after President Bush declared Hawai‘i a disaster area Tuesday. But Gary Heu, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s administrative assistant, said how much relief funds will actually come to Kaua‘i is not clearly known.

The flooding damaged 42 properties along the stream, and the owners have lobbied government for quicker relief.

Some residents, in addressing the council weeks after the flooding, said the idle debris in the water, along with vehicles that have discharged hazardous waste, pose considerable health hazards.

During a meeting of the Kaua‘i County Council’s Committee of the Whole Wednesday, Heu said the county was looking at two possible funding paths.

Questions have arisen over whether some or all of the $33.5 million in relief funds sought by Inouye will come to Kaua‘i, Heu said.

The funds are part of a $106 billion appropriation approved by members of the U.S. Congress, but Heu said it was his impression Bush has threatened to veto the emergency-appropriation package in order to fund the Iraq conflict and to provide further relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina,

Following the meeting of the council committee, Heu said “we (county officials) don’t know what monies are tied to the Bush declaration.”

Heu said, however, “we have posed those questions (to federal officials) in terms of how the processes (for the two funding sources) link up.”

To tap into some of the $33.5 million, the county has agreed to act as a sponsor for the emergency watershed program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In order for the county to receive federal relief funds from NRCS, if they are approved by Bush, the county and the state government would have to put up matching funds, Heu said.

For repair projects, the state and county portions would generally be 25 percent, and the federal contribution would be 75 percent, he said.

Regardless of whether the $33.5 million is approved or portions of it are approved, “we (NRCS) are moving forward as if we had the money,” said Lex Riggle, Kaua‘i district conservationist with NRCS.

Riggle praised county leaders for stepping up to serve as sponsors for the NRCS funds.

By doing so, county leaders have “done a marvelous job serving your constituency,” Riggle said. “We think that is a great example of government serving its people.”

The funds from the NRCS program are geared specifically for the cleanup, although some funds could be used in cases of minor restoration, including the planting of trees, but only to stabilize the soil, Riggle said.

The funds are “not to be used for landscaping,” Riggle said, but funds from other NRCS programs could be used for restoration.

Flood-affected residents along Wailapa Stream have inquired as to whether the cleanup funds could be used for restoration or partial restoration of their properties.

Prior to the flooding, the stream measured between 10 to 12 feet wide. In its wake, the flood created a swath 150 yards wide, leaving stacks of broken trees rising to 20 feet in height. Mingled with the debris were splintered construction materials from flood-damaged homes.

Following talks with Florida-based Earth Tech consultants and others with interest in the cleanup of the stream, county leaders have looked at grinding up the debris and using it as mulch, or burning it, Heu said.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who along with other council members has advocated extending the life of the Kekaha Landfill, asked how much of the debris would end up in the landfill.

Hopefully, very little, Heu said.

“The intent is to keep most of that debris out of the landfill,” Heu said.

County leaders have scheduled another meeting with affected residents at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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