March has always been the wettest month on Kaua‘i.
Cold fronts moving across the North Pacific have a tendency to create a weather void over the island allowing rain-heavy conditions to park for weeks.
March 2007 came in right on cue with flash-flood warnings issued for the North Shore on Friday, March 2.
The heavy drops on Friday that fell on Bruce Fehring’s property in Kilauea with minimal chance of causing much damage, had the potential to add more weight to an already heavy heart.
“After the rains came Friday, I was in the back yard raking and I looked down and saw this,” Fehring said last week, pointing to a concrete slab with the name “Aurora” scrawled into it. “The heavy rains uncovered something I had completely forgotten about.”
Fehring has not forgotten his daughter Aurora, whom he lost a year ago today, and though he has managed to clear away much of the debris from his property delivered by a several-million-gallon wall of water that included a liquefied portion of a dam and all that it picked up on the way down, the little reminders are still everywhere, he said. “That concrete held a stanchion for a photovoltaic tracking system we installed about 10 years ago,” Fehring said. “Aurora had to put her mark on it.”
The inch-and-a-half thick steel stanchion jutting from the concrete is sheared, and though the water took his solar system, his daughter’s name in the concrete will remain, much like the etch of her life on his existence will remain.
The home Aurora, her husband Alan Dingwall and their two-year-old son Rowan lived in was destroyed by the breach last year, as were two other structures.
The Fehrings plan to rebuild. And though the home that was lost was permitted and above the mark of the 100-year-flood plane, the new home will be farther up the hill of the watershed. He and his wife Cyndee will move into the home once it is built.
Before his daughter’s home was destroyed, the Fehring’s had a permit to move it up to the location where the new home will be. That idea stalled for various reasons, one of which being the move could only be handled by one company on Kaua’i.
Fehring has been approved for an SBA loan to build the new home, but an insurance settlement for the lost structure may be a ways off. “The March 14 breach was considered a flood so Allstate will not cover it,” Fehring said.
The average homeowner’s policy does not cover flooding. “That is a separate policy,” said Allstate regional spokesperson Caitlin Gorand.
“They never said they weren’t going to pay, until I forced the issue,” he said about trying to get a concrete definition from the insurance company for the incident.
Gorand cannot speak about the specifics of Fehring’s situation as there is a lawsuit pending. But, she said, “In a general sense, with a situation like that, a lot of the damage caused may be covered in a homeowners policy, damage from fire, roof damage, but that would be related to something like rains.”
“It all comes down to the causation matter,” Gorand said.
Shortly after Fehring pressed the matter he received a letter from Allstate stating there was a lawsuit filed. “My lawyers went to them, and (Allstate) told the lawyers they would withdraw the lawsuit if I would stop pressing the issue.”
“My lawyers say it is unlikely to collect on a claim because a dam breach is a flood event,” Fehring said. “I am not pressing the issue, and they are not suing.”
The Fehring’s four other children: Brianna, 23, Dylan, 20, Kai, 17, and Galen 13 all have dealt with the last year in their own way, said Fehring, while the whole family relied heavily on each other to get through. “Sure there have been plenty of tears,” Fehring said. “Aurora, Allan and Rowan are out of our lives … all that potential is no longer with us.”
“Sometimes I can’t even get my bearings,” he said.
Brianna is currently attending California College of the Arts in Oakland, while Dylan — the independent world traveler, says his dad — is currently in the New School in New York City, a liberal arts college. Kai and Galen were at Kula School, but now are homeschooled.
Kai was recently accepted into the School Year Abroad program.
Standing in his back yard peering over the tableau of his several acres bordered by the Wailapa Stream, Bruce talks about how the water last year came down the watershed and hit the bank opposite his property, taking out a hardwood tree plantation. It then came back across the stream bed to take out his upstream neighbors lower home and a swimming pool, he said. “You can see where it split there,” he said pointing to a surviving stand of African tulip trees.
One portion of the wall of debris continued up the bank above his property, hit its apogee and then turned straight toward the house. “It deposited a large tree up there, and then it turned and targeted the house,” Fehring said.
The remaining concrete slab gives little hint to the destruction.
There were two other temporary structures swept from the property and four other lives. “We’re pretty sure Tim Noonan and Banyan (Wayne Rotstein) were on this property and are no longer with us … the families have death certificates, but no bodies,” Fehring said.
Christina “Sunny” MacNees and Daniel Arroyo were also swept from the property.
“There was a gouge 85 feet long and 4 feet deep down there … that was the type of forces this thing brought,” he said.
Besides the seven lives and the home, the Fehring’s lost much of the work accomplished on the property after acquiring it 18 years ago. Shortly after Dylan was born, the Fehring’s moved to Kaua‘i from New York without jobs.
Retail businesses in the Hamptons had been lucrative and the Fehring’s purchased, in a Condominium Property Regime, 22 acres with five housesites and one guest house site for $525,000. The couple had a land partner and the proceeds from their home sale in East Hampton, N.Y. provided the rest
Mike Dyer sold the property to the Fehring’s. Today they still own 7.5 acres.
Staying in tents the first years, the Fehring’s persevered and thrived on the North Shore. Bruce became a real estate broker.
These days, it’s hard to go back to making money, he says. “I’ve been quite distracted from my normal income producing work.”
But the Fehring’s are staying they say, on the land they love.
The family will honor the day in private, with quiet remembrances.
• Adam Harju, editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) or email@example.com