HANALEI — In 1995, the Hanalei River bank broke down in a bad way.
More than 30,000 tons of eroded soil and sediment have fallen into Hanalei Bay since then, according to the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Today, DLNR is proposing to return the river back to its original form to the tune of nearly $2 million.
“I don’t want to definitively say what caused it,” said Brian Dick, a geomorphologist with Aecom, the consulting firm working with DLNR to restore the bank, “But I don’t think it’s a natural process. I’ll definitively answer that.”
He is “confident,” he said, that the problem is not nature simply running its course.
Approximately 25 people attended a public meeting Tuesday in Hanalei to hear DLNR and Aecom’s plan for how the agency plans to restore the 100-foot section of eroded stream bank, on state land above the Hanalei Wildlife Refuge.
Despite numerous inquiries from the audience, the project team chose not to address the history of the situation. They chose instead to talk about what can be done to fix the problem.
“That’s not in the scope of work,” said Ardalan Nikou of Aecom. “Essentially the scope of this work is to address the breach. We are not looking at the history of it.”
The $1.9 million restoration project is scheduled to begin in April and should conclude before winter 2014. Engineering improvements will reduce future erosion and chances for breaching during future flood events.
Over the years, the breach has caused numerous problems in the area, according to DLNR, including environmental pollution, loss of property, stream and reef degradation, and loss of water for nearby taro fields and the refuge.
William Aila, chair of DLNR said Monday there are only two options — fix the breach or do nothing.
At this point, something must be done, he said.
If left untreated, DLNR says the river will continue to carve a new channel across private and state-owned properties, and ultimately leave 1,000 feet of the Hanalei River dry.
Over the years, flood flows have repeatedly broken through emergency repairs, with the breach channel expanding after every major flood, according to DLNR.
Some residents at the meeting said they’ve been concerned a while about the erosion.
For years, Hanalei biologist and videographer Terry Lilley, who is interested in the river as a nearby resident, has claimed that the mud flowing from the river was causing coral die-offs in the bay. Monday’s meeting confirmed his suspicions, he said.
Lilley told the DLNR that the deposited sediment continues to violate both the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, and that someone should be held accountable.
“I just want to be really clear, in the environment you can’t address a little teeny part of the river without addressing the rest of the river, the reef and the top of the mountain,” he said. “They all connect together.”
Makaala Kaaumoana, a member of the Hanalei Bay Coalition, said the Hanalei River has periodically run “chocolate” in the past, and she didn’t want people to get the idea that every time the water is muddy it is because of the breach.
While she is in favor of the project, Kaaumoana said she was concerned about Kauai being overdue for a hurricane, and the large amount of debris that is sure to wash down the river subsequently.
“I’d like to hear somebody talking about what happens when that next flood comes down, because that will happen in my lifetime and your lifetime,” she said. “And by the way, for us locals here, two generations isn’t enough.”
The DLNR proposal includes removing approximately 400 feet of boulders and rock from the main river channel and restoring the eroded channel to its pre-damaged configuration. The work will involve importing 1,300-cubic-yards of fill material, including 650 cubic yards directly from the dredging portion of the project.
The project is at the conclusion of the planning and design phase, and major permits and approvals are currently pending, including the Department of the Army permit, Clean Water Act Water Quality Certification, Coastal Zone Management Federal Consistency Review and Historic Properties Review, said DLNR.
Once complete, the restored embankment will be planted with native vegetation to ensure its stabilization.
Dick, who Nikou described as the “doctor for the river,” said the nature of bioengineering is attempting to emulate and kickstart the natural process.
For this project, Dick is confident in a successful result.
“This isn’t my first rodeo, so to speak,” he said. “For me, this one doesn’t have a lot of uncertainty. I know I can put that plug in place and it will stay there, for mine and your lifetime.”
The caveat, Dick said, is having the next hurricane hold off long enough for the vegetation to take root and stabilize the embankment.
The DLNR is discussing a Memorandum of Agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding post-construction maintenance of the project, including periodic inspections, removal of unwanted vegetation and damage assessment.
A public notice will soon be available for review at www.poh.usace.army.mil (file number POH-2012-00199) and will include a 30-day public comment period.
• Chris D’Angelo, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.