LIHU‘E — While some county councilmembers felt the bill could have used more discussion, a time crunch pushed their hands to pass amendments to the county’s floodplain-management code.
The deadline for the county to be in compliance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) is Feb. 26. With that date fast approaching, the council last week unanimously passed Bill No. 2816, Draft 1, which would meet FEMA’s minimum requirements.
Updated flood studies affect Hanapepe and Waimea rivers, Moloa‘a Stream and bay areas, amending property flood risks in these areas. The new maps reclassified areas behind the Waimea and Hanapepe levees as the Special Flood Hazard Areas.
These changes can affect mortgages, mandatory flood insurance and plans to build or rebuild on these grounds.
In late January, the council’s Public Works and Veteran’s Services Committee took a look at the bill, where Vice Chair Mason Chock introduced housekeeping amendments requested by the administration. As stated in prior meetings, this bill simply comes into compliance with FEMA requirements.
Then, County Managing Director Michael Dahilig said that FEMA’s concerns, which were addressed, make more specific language, rather than allowing broad coverage.
“If you look at the overall requirements we must maintain in order to have flood insurance available to our residents, there is stringent requirements,” Dahilig said.
In January, councilmember Felicia Cowden expressed concerns that certain problem areas are not addressed in the bill and the timeline.
“I’m unhappy with this,” Cowden said, bringing up issues with how the county can monitor watercourses when large developments are being built using concrete that pushes water downstream and saturates hillsides and flood narrow valleys. These are issues prevalent in areas like Wainiha.
“I don’t feel it’s going to get those elements that affect my neighborhood, the north and east where it’s wet,” Cowden said, further raising concerns that the county could have done more since last year through a hazard-mitigation plan.
Dahilig said the timeline is tighter than the administration wishes, and deliberations were cut short because of federal deadlines and the risks associated with securing flood insurance.
“If we want to maintain the ability for people that live in flood areas in this county to have flood insurance, so that they are able to then have a mortgage that is backed by a bank because there is insurance that is protecting the structure, we need to participate in the program,” Dahilig said.
“So I don’t want to give you the impression that you don’t have to pass that or else. But it is a die that has been cast, because we have the requirement to have an ordinance in this manner.”
Last Wednesday, Cowden again voiced her reservations, stating that there were issues that are neglected in this bill.
“I understand where the needs to have this go through quickly are important, and it is my strong hope … that in this existing term of the council, whether it’s this year or next year, that we work to make sure that we address the problems that have gone unaddressed or unclarified that I feel,” Cowden said.
“I want to make sure that we can actually improve and strength this floodplain management so that there aren’t typically older houses that end up being flooded.”
Councilmember Luke Evslin echoed Cowden’s sentiments that the law should be further addressed in the future.
“I’m happy to vote to approve this bill today and also recognize the need and pressing time constant here to ensure we uphold our program but also recognize at least the need to further look at our flood ordinance to ensure we’re appropriately straddling the line between ensuring a kama‘aina family can repair their homes when needed and ensure that people are not abusing our laws to rebuild homes sometimes entirely within dangerous floodways.”
Information for those impacted by the upcoming map change can visit National Flood Insurance Program website at floodsmart.gov or contact the NFIP Help Center at 1-877-336-2627.
To view the new FIRMs and to understand the effects of the revisions, visit the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ flood map webpage at waihalana.hawaii.gov/flood-maps/.
FIRMs are also available for viewing at the county Department of Public Works Engineering offices at 4444 Rice St., Suite 175, Lihu‘e, or at msc.fema.gov.
Anyone with further questions should contact interim Kaua‘i County Floodplain Manager Douglas Haigh at 241-4849 or firstname.lastname@example.org.