The Kaua‘i County Council has approved up to $100,000 to hire attorneys to represent the county in lawsuits arising from the breach of the Ka Loko Reservoir in Kilauea last March.
No councilmembers opposed the expenditure during an executive session and a regular council meeting at the historic County Building Wednesday,
The March 14 breach sent an estimated 450-million gallons of water down Wailapa Stream, leaving seven dead and millions of dollars in property damage in its wake.
The appropriation will allow outside counsel to help represent the county in a wrongful death suit Bruce Fehring has filed.
The suit is for the loss of his daughter, a grandson and son-in-law.
The funding will also be used for outside counsel in a lawsuit actress Bette Midler has brought against James Pflueger, the owner of the Ka Loko Reservoir.
The county of Kaua‘i and the state of Hawaii are named as defendants in that case.
The request for the funds came in response to a recently released independent report stating the county failed to enforce illegal grading violations near Pflueger’s reservoir 10 years ago.
Had county officials moved to correct the violation, a spillway might not have been filled, and the wall of the reservoir might not have been compromised or weakened, the report states.
In the aftermath of the dam breach, water was pumped out to safe levels to reduce the chance of a second round of flooding that could have taken more lives or damaged more property.
The report noted a county employee followed up on an anonymous tip from someone who had complained about the grading, but was told by then-Mayor Maryanne Kusaka 10 years ago not to pursue the matter.
The report said Kusaka wrote in a county memo that Pflueger had phoned her office seeking the identity of the complainant.
When Pflueger was told the source was anonymous, Kusaka questioned whether looking into such tips was worthwhile.
The county only looked into the grading violations five years ago, the report said.
And when state and county inspectors went to the site, they found nothing wrong — an assessment that might have been reached because not all inspectors are trained in dam safety inspections, the report said.
Should the county Attorney’s Office want more than what the council approved, the agency will have to make another formal funding request.
The funds requested Wednesday are among hundreds-of-thousands of dollars the council has approved for outside counsel to represent the county.
In one case, a county police officer filed a state whistleblower’s complaint, contending a supervisor threatened her life during a drug investigation.
In another case, an officer allegedly used an informant to plant drugs and paraphernalia in the home and vehicle of a Kaua‘i man and his family.
The Garden Island requested the county disclose how much it has spent on outside counsel.
A representative for the County Attorney’s office replied the legal costs incurred must remain confidential to avoid giving an unfair advantage to litigants against the county in the future.