Kilauea River cleanup completed

KILAUEA —After nearly five years and a cost of more than $4 million to taxpayers, Kaua‘i County and contractor Earthworks Pacific have completed the final phase of the Kilauea River and Wailapa Stream cleanup, the county announced Friday.

The scope of the project included removal of approximately 23,960 cubic yards of debris and sediment, plus the development of a staging area and access route, a county press release stated.

Kilauea River and Wailapa Stream were heavily impacted by debris and sediment in March 2006 when heavy rains led to the breach of Ka Loko Reservoir Dam. The dam’s failure caused a wall of water — estimated at 20- to 70-feet high — to rush down the mountains and through Kilauea River, destroying houses and taking seven lives.

In the fall of 2006, the Department of Public Works initiated a two-phase river and stream cleanup project, according to county officials. The first phase involved hiring a contractor to remove potentially hazardous items, including automobiles, refrigerators, steel drums and propane cylinders. The subsequent phase included removal of approximately 6,800 cubic yards of greenwaste and 25 tons of automobiles, white goods and scrap metal.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $1.2 million in funding for the project, and the county provided $97,000.

Initially, the lead agency for the final phase of the Kilauea project was the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the release stated. In April 2010, state officials contacted the county and requested the county to assume sponsorship of the project because they did not believe the state could expend the funds before Sept. 30, 2010, the expiration date.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. sought and received a one-year extension and, with the concurrence of the Kaua‘i County Council, agreed to assume sponsorship of the project in June 2010, the county stated.

“The restoration of this watershed is very important to the well-being of our community, and we couldn’t allow the funds to lapse without pushing for the extension,” Carvalho said in a statement. He credited Sen. Daniel Inouye and DLNR staff for assisting in the transition of the project and retention of the funding.

A National Resources Conservation Service grant provided funding for the river and stream clean up. The state provided roughly $631,000 in matching funds through in-kind and design services, and the county appropriated $400,000 for construction management.

In January 2010, the county agreed to pay $7.5 million for its portion of the $25.4 million global settlement of various wrongful death and property damage lawsuits stemming from failure of the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam.

And the fallout from the dam’s breach continues.

The state has charged the dam’s owner, Kaua‘i car dealer James Pflueger, with seven counts of manslaughter, claiming (in part) that the dam’s emergency spillway had been covered, the Associated Press reported in June. It said an independent investigator concluded the lack of a spillway caused or contributed to the dam’s failure. Pflueger has denied covering the spillway, and has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charges.

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