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Top 10 stories: A look back at 2018

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Ashley Guerrero, director for Aloha School, gets a photo of U.S. Coast Guard Station Kauai volunteers Benjamin Gardner and Forrest Herring stripping floors at the school following the flooding in Hanalei.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Kamuela Hepa, left, films action on his cellphone and Noa Mau-Espirito, center, asks to speak to a person in charge about a letter from the state attorney general during the enforcement of an ejectment order mandating them to vacate the Coco Palms property in Wailua.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Doug Harris of Tennessee, right, already has his purchase as Linda Bosler and Nancy Harris try on selections at the Crazy Shirt shop at Anchor Cove Shopping Center in Nawiliwili. This was their last stop before checking in at the Lihue Airport following a week’s stay here.

  • Photo courtesy state Department of Land and Natural Resources file photo

    Researchers and land management personnel from a variety of organizations gather together to learn about Rapid Ohia Death detection and response.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Mayoral candidate Derek Kawakami is led to a waiting battery of television cameras following his opening remarks thanking his family, supporters and campaign staff on the night of the general election last month at the Kauai Veterans Center.

  • Marianne Buley / The Garden Island file photo

    Three friends finish the Kauai Half Marathon in Poipu in September. From left are Michelle Lizama of Kapaa, Gemma Riopta of Lihue and Caroline Texeira of Kapaa.

  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson via Facebook file photo

    Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson posts an encouraging message for Kauai on social media May 12.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Lawrence Mendonca Jr. and Lawrence Mendonca console each other following the sentencing of Darren Galas in the Lihue courthouse.

1. Flooding

The North Shore, a Koloa neighborhood, Anahola and other areas were hit hard by historic April’s rains from which the island has still not fully recovered.

An estimated 49 inches of rain fell between April 14 and April 15 and led to flooding that destroyed homes, washed away cars, wiped out Black Pot Beach Park, overran taro fields, closed schools, destroyed a section of Weke Road, shut down businesses, took out much of Kuhio Highway and left hundreds homeless. Buffalo ended up running on Hanalei Bay. Cars were carried into the ocean, as were tons of debris.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation continues to work on repairs to Kuhio Highway and hopes to reopen in early 2019. Weke Road repairs continue and destroyed homes still sit there.

The devastation united Kauai, as hundreds rallied together to clean up, rebuild, repair and donate money. Samaritans Purse sent a team to help North Shore homeowners in the recovery. Red Cross rallied to the cause, too.

Many are still recovering from the floods, with a convoy system still in place for those living beyond Hanalei.

Hurricane Lane dropped more rains on Kauai in August that led to the loss of a life.

On Aug. 28, Joshua Bradbury, a 30-year-old Kekaha man, died after jumping into an overflowing Waikomo Stream with his friend Noah Foote to save a dog. The stream was swollen with rains from Hurricane Lane, which was downgraded to a tropical storm when it drenched the island.

“He was my best buddy,” said Joshua’s father Rob Bradbury three days later. “He was an advocate for people and for those in need. The neatest thing about Josh was how he affected everybody. He had that smile. He was a special kid.”

2. False missile alert

A Jan. 13 message broadcast to cellphones across the state triggered panic that continued even after the message notifying people it was a false alarm. That happened 38 minutes after the original message was sent.

Many people tried to hide in their homes and called loved ones to say goodbye.

Multiple investigations blamed Hawaii’s false missile alert on human error and inadequate management safeguards. The Associated Press reported the individual who sent the alert believed a real attack was imminent even though his colleagues understood they were participating in an exercise. He selected the missile alert warning template from a drop-down menu, and clicked “yes” in response to a prompt that read, “Are you sure that you want to send this alert?”

Hawaii officials successfully canceled the message five minutes after it was sent, which prevented its retransmission over radio and television airwaves and stopped it from being sent to cellphones that were turned off when the alert was initially issued.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general has recommended changes to strengthen the nation’s emergency alert system after the incident.

Gov. David Ige later said the state was building a better emergency warning system.

“It’s been a good learning experience (and caused the) review of preparedness and public education,” Ige said.

3. Mayor Kawakami

Mayor Derek Kawakami easily defeated Council Chair Mel Rapozo in November’s general election. He became Kauai’s first new mayor in 10 years, replacing Bernard Carvalho Jr.

He has big plans for his first 100 days in office — among them, a round of internal audits to improve government performance, the creation of a new office to address problems facing the community and improving the government’s approach to customer service.

During his inaugural address, Kawakami outlined a “multi-pronged” approach that he said will tackle a range of issues from traffic to taxes. But he began with a call for unity.

“I believe that as a community, we are all seeking the same goal. One way or another, we all want a better island, and a better quality of life for all,” he said.

“While we may have different ideas on how to achieve that goal, the bottom line is this — we are one county, one people, and one community. And we have to work together to effect change.”

Kawakami said no matter the differences, respect is key.

“If we can start this journey united together — believe me, the possibilities are endless,” he said.

4. Galas sentenced

Darren Galas, 46, was sentenced in May by Fifth Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe to 10 years in prison on an assault one charge, a class B felony, related to the 2006 strangulation death of his estranged wife, Sandra Galas.

The Eleele man had been charged with murder in the second degree, but pleaded no contest to the lesser charge in January.

About 100 people attended the emotional sentencing, marked by tears, with some viewing the proceedings in an overflow courtroom.

“I truly, truly hope that the families will have some amount of closure and will focus on the positive memories of Sandra Mendonca Galas, as well as the future of the welfare of the minor children,” Watanabe said as she rendered the sentence.

Reading from emails Sandra Galas sent to her divorce attorney between 2005 and up to January 2006, Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar described a woman who was living in fear of her husband.

The emails described him as often losing his temper and following her at work. She feared that no matter what, Darren Galas would always be harassing her. In the email, Sandra Galas said didn’t feel safe because she was never sure when he would go off again.

On Jan. 25, 2006, Sandra Galas, 27, was found strangled to death in her car at her Eleele home. The case remained open until a grand jury returned an indictment in October 2012.

Once released from prison, Darren Galas will have to pay $9,415.99 in restitution and $4,000 in funeral costs for Sandra Galas.

5. Coco Palms

The development is reportedly back on track after occupiers were finally removed in February.

One person was arrested Feb. 22 in Wailua, where the famed Coco Palms Resort once stood, as a court-ordered ejectment was enforced.

In a joint task force, members of the State Sheriff’s Division, Kauai Police Department, the law enforcement division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Attorney General’s Office enforced the order.

Developer Tyler Greene later said that with legal disputes behind them, the project to rebuild the Coco Palms Resort is moving forward with an estimated completion date of late next year.

“The question is, ‘What’s going on?’ and when media and certain things get picked up, oftentimes our message doesn’t get conveyed the way that we anticipated it getting conveyed,” he said.

Greene said the issues with a group of Native Hawaiian activists who began occupying a piece of the property in February 2017 and claimed ownership through ancestral rights led to delays.

Though they attempted to work with the occupiers to resolve the issue, developers ended up in a lengthy legal battle over the land.

“We tried to sit with them and work through and understand their goals and their agenda and what they were hoping to accomplish, but we saw early on it would be best to let the court process run itself through,” Greene said.

When their title was questioned during the quiet title proceedings, they knew it was going to be a long process.

“Nonetheless, we stayed the course in the spirit of Coco Palms,” Greene said. “The spirit of Coco Palms has been and will always be to unite people and we knew when we were in that court, we had to do everything we could to try and stay true to that vision and true to that spirit and so we did everything we could do to not make it contentious.”

Barring any more unforeseen issues, Greene said they are on track to open the hotel by the end of next year.

Once complete, the $145 million project is slated to boast 350 guest rooms, 12,000-square-feet of retail space, three leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.

6. Alakai O Kauai Charter School

A ribbon-cutting, blessing, music, activities for keiki and school tours were part of the festivities at Alakai O Kauai Charter School’s scenic setting for its grand opening in September at Kahili Mountain Park.

About 150 students in kindergarten through fifth-grade attend the free charter school, whose emphasis is not just academics, said Denise Trentham, school director.

It is a place where they will also “learn a lot about themselves and what it means to be part of a true ohana learning community.”

“We’re going to have a great time and learn a lot,” she said.

Kani “DrB” Blackwell pointed out the school does not have desks for students, but tables and chairs to create an atmosphere that encourages creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving.

The school includes a garden, playground equipment and gymnasium.

“We want you to understand this is a brand-new baby,” said Blackwell, past board president who has been the strongest and most recognizable advocate for the school from day one. “But it’s going to be here forever. And it’s going to be something for Kauai, for Kauai schoolkids. And it’s free. It’s an amazing way of learning.”

7. Tourism

It’s been a record year for tourism on Kauai.

Kauai welcomed 102,516 visitors in November, up 6.4 percent from November 2017.

For the first 11 months of the year, Kauai has had 1.3 million visitors, an 8.2 percent increase, the most in more than 25 years.

Visitors to Kauai spent $141.7 million in November, a 13.9 percent increase from November 2017.

For the year through November, visitors spent $1.8 billion, an increase of 11.6 percent.

The increase is good for the economy, but many have complained too much tourism leads to clogged highways, crowded beaches and is taking a heavy toll on the island’s infrastructure. There has been a call for the Hawaii Tourism Authority to find balance between attracting tourists while maintaining the island’s lifestyle.

Probably for the first time ever — but at least since 2006 — Kauai’s official visitor industry has formally acknowledged that the island has reached its capacity in terms of tourist numbers, and that those numbers must be held to current visitor counts.

While some may find this conclusion shocking, it constitutes the core of the newly completed Kauai Tourism Strategic Plan for 2019 through 2021.

“Kauai visitors have changed in recent years,” the new plan concludes. “In the past, when visitors mostly traveled in tour groups, stayed in hotels and got around on tour buses with a set itinerary, the impacts did not feel as great as they do now.

“Today, most visitors are free independent travelers, often staying in vacation rentals within communities, traveling in cars they rent for their entire stay and searching for special, ‘undiscovered’ places, including places they should not be.”

8. Rapid Ohia Death

Rapid Ohia Death was confirmed at two more locations on Kauai since the May discovery of the disease in the island’s native trees.

The fungal pathogen that has been killing ohia trees on Hawaii Island was discovered in 14 trees in Moloaa in early May and since then, three more trees have tested positive for the fungus. Those trees are located on privately owned land in Halelea Moku and near the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve.

This identifies ROD at three distinct locations on Kauai at elevations ranging from 600 to 1,600 feet above sea level.

New to science, understanding of the disease has evolved along with the number of trees affected by it and, on Hawaii Island, scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture identified the two-different species of fungi that cause ROD, C. huliohia and C. lukuohia.

“At this point, only one of the two fungal pathogens have been confirmed on Kauai,” said Melissa Fisher, Kauai forest program director for The Nature Conservancy. “Now we need everyone to be extra vigilant to prevent further spread of the existing disease and help to keep the other ROD-causing pathogen off our island as well.”

Detecting ROD on Kauai brought that search to the island, and teams conducted aerial drone flights and helicopter surveys using digital mobile sketch mapping and identified 22 areas on Kauai on state and private lands with ohia trees showing symptoms consistent with the disease.

9. ‘Jungle Cruise’

Scenes for Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” were shot on Kauai over the summer.

The film involved hundreds of extras, keiki to kupuna, hired on Kauai, wearing costumes typical of the 1920s.

Disney and Elixir Films kept much of the storyline under wraps, but the film is based on the Disneyland theme park ride Jungle Cruise and stars Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock. Emily Blunt is his co-star.

Johnson plays a riverboat captain in the 1920s, taking a group of travelers through the jungle on the Amazon River in a film with flavors akin to the “Indiana Jones” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises.

Johnson compared the movie to the 1951 classic “The African Queen” in interviews.

The Jungle Cruise at Disney Parks celebrated its 60th year in 2015. Guests who visit the attraction board a replica tramp steamer from a 1930s British explorer’s lodge and take a 7-minute trip down major rivers in Asia, Africa and South America.

The movie involved a spectacular set of docks, houseboats, boats, restaurants and bars at Kapaia Reservoir, which has since been removed.

The film is due out in 2020.

10. Kauai Marathon

The 10th annual Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon on Sept. 2 went off well, said founder Jeff Sacchini, from the 6 a.m. start to the finish line in front of Koloa Landing and a record field. Nearly 250 people completed the full marathon, and nearly 1,600 finished the half marathon.

The weather, cool and cloudy early, was about as good as it gets for a race here, there were no mishaps and everyone seemed to enjoy the day, he said, right from the starting line.

“That energy at the start is unlike anything you could experience,” Sacchini said. “It was electric.”

Runners from 48 states and 17 countries participated. The Aloha State was well represented with 1,235 local registrants of whom 909 were from Kauai, which were both event records. Additionally, there were 61 participants who ran the full or half marathon for the 10th year in a row.

  1. Debra Kekaualua December 31, 2018 11:59 am Reply

    TGI forgot to include the four F-22 Raptors staging at the Lihue Airport. WHAT was the purpose of that military move on lil ol kauaʻi? These military movements are strictly for the purpose of u.s. showing us who is the boss, but forget they themselves are the dasturdly criminals of the overthrow and their incessant lies that have been characterized as truth in front the U.N. Hah!

  2. I saw a Vampire once December 31, 2018 2:51 pm Reply

    And also the event in April. The flooding. The national Guard had to come in and help out. You remember them?

  3. Debra Kekaualua January 2, 2019 12:02 pm Reply

    Once the u.s. deoccupies, all hawaii would need is the Hawaii National Guard. We pose no threat, it is the u.s. military that is a threat to the well-being of humans in general, but in this case it is clear to me who are the oppressor, the biggest bully and original terrorists. Silly boys and girls. Didnt your parents tell you that if you tell a lie, you have to keep lieing until you are busted. Guess what? Busted. Stand by, daily development and updates.

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