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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Wailupe Street flood control plan ready

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

A plan to raise the height of a bridge over Wailupe Stream is the first stage in the government's effort to ease residents' worries about flooding in the East Honolulu flood plain.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

'Aina Haina — It's been nearly 14 years since the New Year's Eve storm of 1987 flooded streets and covered Kalaniana'ole Highway with a layer of muck at Niu Valley, pouring mud and debris through homes and for days forcing anyone who wanted to go to town to take the Windward route.

But it's been even more years since the residents of 'Aina Haina began asking city, state and federal officials to dip into their wallets to pay for improvements to Wailupe Stream that will let them all breathe easier when it rains.

Suddenly, though, federal participation in the project seems assured. That relieves the state and city of the bulk of the financial burden and gives advocates hope for the first time that something will finally be done.

Many here who live along the largest flood plain in East Honolulu and remember that storm check their back yards when it rains to make sure the stream isn't overflowing. While the stream hasn't significantly overrun its banks in recent memory, residents say that storm of 1987 and the $35 million in damage that it caused is what drives their push for work on the unlined, unchanneled stream.

Federal officials have maintained that the cost of improving the stream from the mountains to the bridge — estimated price $39 million — outweighed the benefits to the community, and a 1998 study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reached that same conclusion.

But each day, 67,000 people drive over the bridge at Wailupe Stream on the only road linking East Honolulu to town. And this year the bridge became the focal point of a new strategy to gain federal money. Advocates decided they would add the bridge to the project in order to get the stream channeled.

Now, federal lawmakers have given preliminary approval to a $100,000 appropriation for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to possibly raise the bridge at Kalaniana'ole Highway — a bottleneck for debris during other storms — and from there the stream improvements will be done, said state Rep. Bertha Leong, (R-'Aina Haina, Hawai'i Kai)

The money means the project can get out of the study phase and into the design phase. While it's not enough to redesign the bridge and shore up the stream with concrete, it is a starting point, she said. And starting with the bridge assures that the rest of the stream will get attention, Leong said.

"Clearly this is an important project for the community," said Jennifer Sabas, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye's Hawai'i chief of staff. "The reason for doing the bridge first is to change the cost benefit analysis amount. In the past, Wailupe had trouble clearing the cost benefit. By starting at the bridge that serves so many every day, it adds to the benefit analysis."

The money for the 2002 budget year still must be considered by the full Congress.

Since this is a joint project, the city and the state had to show that they, too, are committed. This year, the community vision team set aside $1 million in city money and last year the state Legislature agreed to spend $3 million when the project gets off the ground. Leong hopes to get a commitment from the state for a similar amount during the upcoming legislative session. The state and city must each pay 17.5 percent of the project and the federal government will pay 65 percent, Leong said.

The use of half the East Honolulu Vision Team money shows how important the project is to the community, said Gregg Kashiwa, an 'Aina Haina resident.

"This may be the only unlined stream on O'ahu," Kashiwa said. "It just got forgotten. Should something happen to the stream and the bridge on Kalaniana'ole Highway wash out, then the highway would be inoperable and everyone in Hawai'i Kai would have to go to town through Waimanalo."

The flood plain includes about 900 homes — about two-thirds of the homeowners in 'Aina Haina, who each pay $1,000 a year in flood insurance.

Once the stream is channeled and the bridge shored up, a process that could take several years, homeowners won't have to pay additional insurance, Leong said.

"The state is committed to this as well as the county," Kashiwa said. "Just because many of the houses are old in the area, it doesn't mean we don't need federal flood control. The need is still there."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com or 395-8831.