LIHUE — The state Land Board unanimously voted to move a $2 million Hanalei River restoration project forward despite U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to sign a Use and Access Agreement.
Delaying construction would negatively impact the Hanalei area, according to a submittal filed by Carty Chang, chief engineer at the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The purpose of the UAA was to place ownership of the reinforced earthen structure, once built, under USFWS. As the primary beneficiary, USFWS — which maintains an irrigation ditch that supplies water to the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge — would be solely responsible for any repair and maintenance, according to Chang.
“The construction of the improvements was contingent upon USFWS signing and agreeing to the terms of the UAA, by January 31, 2014,” he wrote. “As of this writing, the USFWS has refused to sign the UAA.”
Spokeswoman Deborah Ward said Wednesday that while the DLNR is still in discussions with the USFWS to resolve the issue, “the board felt it was more prudent to proceed because the weather window for construction needs to be in summer, before the rainy season begins.”
The board unanimously voted to approve Chang’s recommendation during its regular meeting Friday, which will allow the Hanalei Stream Bank Restoration Project to begin without an agreement.
“We would like to start (construction) in June or July, subject to obtaining the Army Corps (of Engineers) permit,” Ward wrote. “We expect to complete the project in about 4-5 months, weather permitting.”
Spokeswoman Megan Nagel did not respond to questions about why USFWS had refused to sign the UAA, but said it would continue working with DLNR to resolve the maintenance and ownership issues.
In November of 1995, a large flood event caused the Hanalei River the breach its bank. Since then, DLNR figures suggest between 28,000 and 35,000 tons of eroded soil and sediment have discharged into Hanalei Bay.
“It is anticipated that between 2,000 to 4,000 tons of sediment per year are going to continue to erode, if the situation is not corrected,” Chang wrote.
In addition to increased sedimentation, Chang said further delay would negatively impact Hanalei taro farmers and several federally endangered Hawaiian waterfowl species downriver, as well as the Kauai economy and public safety.
“As long as flow through the breach channel continues to evolve, the ground near the top of the bank will be unstable, continue to erode, and pose a threat to life and property,” he wrote.
DLNR’s plan is to restore the eroded stream bank by constructing a 154-foot-long earthen berm. The work will involves removing 400 feet of boulders and rock from the main river channel and restoring the eroded channel to its pre-damaged configuration. Approximately 1,300 cubic yards of fill material will be imported.
The project site is located on state land above the Hanalei Wildlife Refuge and improvements are expected to reduce future erosion and breaching during flood events.
If left untreated, DLNR has said 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.
“We will continue our plans to construct this project for the benefits it provides, and will continue to work with USFWS on an agreement,” Ward wrote.
During a meeting in October, numerous local residents inquired about what caused the breach. While the consulting firm Aecom said addressing the history of the situation was not in its scope of work, geomorphologist Brian Dick said he was “confident” it was not a natural process.
Goodfellow Bros., Inc. submitted the low bid for the project at $2,086,010, which DLNR says is within available funds.