Legislators to hash out Ka Loko-inspired laws

At least one legislator feels a bill for stricter dam safety regulations set to hit the legislative floor today has been too watered down to ensure public safety.

House Bill 1905 sets forth several suggestions outlined in the Ka Loko Reservoir report, but it fails to address enforcing grading violations, Rep. Hermina Morita, D-Kapa‘a-Hanalei, said.

Robert Godbey, special deputy attorney, authored the Ka Loko Report and published it in January.

HB 1905 “is a total disregard of what was suggested to strengthen the existing law,” Morita said.

Godbey’s report, which was compiled after an independent investigation, cites an altered spillway and a lack of maintenance and government regulation as contributors to the Ka Loko Reservoir dam tragedy March 14.

The dam’s bursting killed seven people and destroyed millions of dollars in property when 400 million gallons of water burst through in Kilauea.

According to Godbey’s report, an altered spillway and a lack of maintenance and government regulations were key reasons the dam failed.

Filling the emergency spillway — which the report states “it appears (property owner) James Pflueger did” — can undermine the dam’s strength.

Godbey suggested that legislators consider levying heavy fines against those who do not comply with dam safety laws — a point that isn’t addressed in HB 1905, Morita said.

However, Rep. Ken Ito, D-He‘eia-Kane‘ohe, who co-sponsored the bill, said the bill is “a long way” away from being completed.

Ito said after the bill hits the congressional floor tomorrow, it will still face an onslaught of tweaking.

“We have a lot of legal ramifications to consider in this bill,” Ito said, noting fines and penalties will be considered once the bill goes to a judiciary committee.

“We’re talking about agricultural land and the fine is supposed to be $10,000 a day,” Ito said. “If you’re a small farmer, I don’t know if you can bear those costs.”

After the judiciary and finance committees and the Senate review HB 1905, the Legislature will have a conference to further enhance it, Ito said.

“We’re looking at about three months,” he said.

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