Flood zones to change

LIHUE — Tsunami evacuation areas on Kauai have expanded, but a draft map is being kept locked up, as disclosure could prompt changes in mortgages and homeowners’ insurance rates.

“I can tell you the new zones are larger than what you’re seeing in the phone book,” said Mark Marshall, emergency management officer at the county Civil Defense Agency, at a Kauai County Council meeting Wednesday.

Some areas that historically didn’t need to be evacuated, now will have to be, he said.

And that was pretty much all that Marshall disclosed.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro had reserved agenda time on Wednesday’s meeting for a briefing on the status of the new tsunami evacuation maps for Kauai, only to hear from Marshall that such discussion should not happen in public.

“We want to do that in executive session,” Marshall said at the start of the briefing on the maps and on a new modeling technology from the University of Hawaii.

The inundation maps represent the places where scientists believe water would reach in the event of a tsunami, but the county is responsible for drawing the evacuation maps, Marshall said. The reason for keeping the maps out of the public’s view is that it could be contentious for insurance rates and mortgages, he said.

In January, Marshall told the council that Dr. Kwok Fai Cheung, of UH Manoa, had reported the tsunami inundation maps were finished. Up until that time, Marshall said he had only seen snapshots of the maps, but would meet with UH scientists in February and do a thorough review of the maps.

He also said there would be some “ruffled feathers,” as there could be potential changes in home insurance rates following the release of the new maps.

Marshall’s reluctance on making a public presentation Wednesday upset Furfaro, who said there must be parts of his presentation that could be public.

“This is a study from the University of Hawaii about inundation zones and tsunami response,” Furfaro said.

Marshall said he understands, but the study is still only a draft, the county is not allowed to disclosed it, and the maps are owned by the state.

“OK, I’ll take your interpretation for that, I disagree with it, even tough I have (council) members here shaking their heads, that they agree with you; but I’m telling you, I don’t,” Furfaro said.

County Attorney Al Castillo stepped in and said questions could be answered in executive session.

“I’m not trying to hide anything,” said Castillo.

Civil Defense Plans and Operations Officer Elton Ushio said a special committee is targeting August to make final recommendations to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.

Councilman Mel Rapozo, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, was willing to defer the open discussion until after an executive session on the matter.

“This is not for us, this is for the public,” Rapozo said.

Castillo said the council would be fully advised in executive session, after which some things could possibly be made public.

“I think the more knowledge that you have regarding this sensitive matter is better for the council,” he said.

Furfaro was not satisfied.

“The reality is, I do the agenda,” he said.

The executive session he had posted was to discuss the science and technology part of the issue, Furfaro said. The posting in question was about a briefing on the status of the tsunami evacuation maps and an update on the UH models, he said.

“The county is involved in several other parts, not the science part, but certainly on the maps and inclusion for planning — those are the things that drive homeowner insurance policies here,” he said.

“What’s so confidential about telling us or briefing us on an update on the maps?”

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she too would be expecting the county attorney to cite the provisions that would apply for going into executive session.

She said she is aware of the concept that until a work is finished, it’s not ready for public disclosure.

There could be confusion, she said, and rights and liabilities could be affected by releasing the tentative tsunami maps to the public.

The council moved the discussion to the end of the meeting. However, there was no further discussion Wednesday — neither in executive session nor in the open.

Likely in October, Civil Defense will provide an update to the council on the maps, according to Furfaro.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@thegardenisland.com

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