LIHUE — Kauai will be getting $9 million in federal funding for flood relief.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated $26 million in new disaster relief funding for the state of Hawaii, according to a press release Monday from U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
More that a third of that total will go to Kauai County, with the remaining $17 million slated for Hawaii Island, Schatz told The Garden Island during an interview Monday afternoon.
More than a half a billion dollars in federal disaster relief has been awarded to the state in the wake of three catastrophic natural disasters that struck the archipelago in 2018: Kauai’s North Shore floods, the eruption of Kilauea, and Hurricane Lane.
But according to Schatz, this newest round of funding — part of a $1.7 billion housing disaster recovery package Congress passed last year — is different because the money can be spent at the discretion of county governments, rather than at the direction of federal administrators in Washington.
“It’s flexible money,” he said. “They get to make a plan to move forward with.”
Schatz said his office has been in touch with Mayor Derek S. K. Kawakami’s administration to develop a recovery plan, which has to be approved by HUD officials before the funds can be made available to the county.
Kawakami said he became aware that the county could be getting some unspecified amount of federal aid in June, when he visited Washington, D.C. and met with White House officials, federal administrators and legislators during “Hawaii on the Hill,” an annual event aimed at promoting business in the state.
Since then, Kawakami said his administration has been working with Schatz to prepare a HUD proposal and develop a strategy for spending the money. Now that they know exactly how much funding will be available, county officials can begin finalizing those plans, which Kawakami said are primarily focused on the following three areas: housing, disaster mitigation and public safety.
Part of the money will go toward developing affordable housing projects in the North Shore neighborhoods devastated by the 2018 floods, an initiative that could run into trouble when it comes to convincing people to live there, according to Kawakami, who said that future natural disasters in the area are “not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’”
The other two prongs of the plan will focus on preparing for that inevitability.
Kawakami said the need to better prepare for natural disasters on the North Shore quickly became apparent in April 2018 when the floods and ensuing landslides left entire neighborhoods stranded.
“That whole area was very much isolated,” he said, explaining that first responders — police, firefighters and paramedics — had “very little presence” on the North Shore. That situation today is largely unchanged, but Kawakami said a portion of the federal funding will go toward staging areas for equipment and personnel that will allow for a quicker and more adequate emergency response.
The $9 million isn’t enough to cover all the county’s costs, according to Kawakami, but he said it will “certainly help.”