Levee projects lack maintenance

Two flood-control projects at the Waimea and Hanapepe rivers need maintenance and some repairs to continue to effectively provide protection against flooding in the future, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman in Honolulu said Friday.

Although Army Corps inspectors found excessive vegetation and debris, some cracked concrete and clogged drains during a visit to the levee projects in December 2005, the lack of maintenance never posed a hazard to residents, said Joseph Bonfiglio, chief public affairs officer for the Army Corps.

“There is no threat of imminent failure to the public,” he said in a statement. “In fact, the Hanapepe project on Kaua‘i functioned as planned during heavy rain last year, preventing an estimated $3 million in damage.”

The county is working with the Army Corps to correct the problems, and the federal agency will inspect the work when it is done, Bonfiglio said.

The two projects and a flood control project in Moanalua Valley on O‘ahu were among 122 nationwide projects whose conditions were deemed “unacceptable” by the federal agency, a designation that prevents the county from receiving agency funds following destructive flooding.

Ed Renaud, county superintendent of the roads division of the Public Works Department, said the county’s cleaning and repair of most parts of the levee walls began in September, got into full swing in early December and should be completed by March.

“We have removed almost all of the vegetation,” he said.

County Engineer Donald Fujimoto said while county Public Works crews have removed most of the silt in the lower sections of the Waimea project, the county plans to hire a contractor to remove thicker silt growth higher up the river.

“We have done the bulk of it, and we still need to finish up,” Fujimoto said.

The contractor would be hired through competitive bidding, Fujimoto said.

Renaud also said workers have made major repairs to concrete cracks in the Waimea levee wall and replaced gate valves for its drainage system, and next week, county crews will remove silt from an area with five drainage gates in Waimea River.

No cracks have been found in the walls of the Hanapepe flood control project, the Public Works Department says, but gates will be greased as part of the maintenance of both levee systems.

“The residents don’t have to worry,” Renaud said. “They see us working out there.”

Bonfiglio said he anticipates the Kaua‘i and O‘ahu flood control problems will be corrected shortly because of the strong relationship the agency has with the counties.

“The Corps has an excellent partnership,” Bonfiglio said.

An Army Corps report noted limited funding curbed efforts by Kaua‘i County Public Works to maintain the Waimea levee project and to remove sediment from it.

The same lack of funds limited the county’s ability to maintain the Hanapepe project, the agency report stated. Both projects were last inspected in October 2004.

At the request of Public Works, Army Corps inspectors visited both sites in January 2005 after flooding six days earlier.

The agency report stated the Waimea flooding resulted from the river being high and drainage gates being closed.

Flooding occurred at the Hanapepe River because of poor drainage behind a right bank levee, the report stated.

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

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