Manoa flood may cost $80M
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
University of Hawai'i officials privately estimated yesterday that flood damages to the campus could go as high as $75 million, making the Oct. 30 Manoa flood one of the costliest natural disasters in Hawai'i history.
As U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye toured the most severely flood-damaged buildings yesterday, he urged administrators that they "shouldn't be shy" in coming up with a realistic damage figure.
"If the damages are $100 million, say so, we're here to help," Inouye told administrators after UH, state, county and federal officials briefed him about the disaster that saw Manoa Stream rampage through sections of the valley and the campus.
Inouye said the numbers he's been hearing are "way below" what he believes damages will run.
"It's much higher than what we've heard," he said after touring the campus and receiving his briefing. "For instance, Hurricane 'Iniki damage was estimated at $75 million and it was far over that."
Interim UH President David McClain assured Inouye that the university will not be reticent in its final figures, which have not yet been tallied.
"We will not be shy about estimating damage," said McClain. "Often initial estimates rise."
In his first visit to Manoa and the campus since the flood, Inouye had high praise for university administrators who worked tirelessly to minimize damage and get classes back in session, with a loss of only two days. And he assured state officials of his help to get $3 million needed to expand the Ala Wai Watershed Analysis to include Manoa, Palolo, Makiki and possibly the Nu'uanu watersheds to create a full-scale flood control plan. The project is considered a critical link to offering middle and long-term solutions.
Inouye also asked university officials to give him the data necessary about how much flooding the university has suffered in recent years and the potential for more to help make the case for federal assistance.
"If I made a presentation that this is a once-in-a-lifetime disaster, they're not going to give me any help," he said.
McClain said of the $1.6 billion worth of buildings and equipment in the UH system, $800 million is centered at Manoa, and the flood hit one-quarter of the buildings, or about $200 million worth of property.
"Of that $200 million we have a couple of buildings seriously damaged and others that suffered some damage," McClain said. "Just running those numbers in your head, you get to $25 million easily in terms of damage to buildings without even getting to the contents or the value of the work lost."
It's especially difficult to come up with dollar figures for 35 years of research, said McClain. The only way it can be done is to estimate how much it would cost to replicate the work, though in cases where longitudinal studies have been under way, there is no way to do that.
Not all UH units met an internal Dec. 3 deadline for insurance claims, but once all those numbers are in, the university will have a better idea of the total destruction to buildings, research projects, historic library materials and office equipment. At Hamilton Library alone, 100 faculty and staff whose offices were in the basement have been displaced and will have to be relocated.
Once final damage figures are tallied, the university and the state will still have to make a determination about whether to seek a Presidential Disaster Declaration that would enable the state to receive federal relief for infrastructure damage, with the federal share 75 percent and state share 25 percent. The state has received a 30-day extension for action, making Dec. 31 the deadline.
"We're in a holding pattern," said Ed Teixeira, Civil Defense vice director. "Is it beneficial for us to go after a federal disaster declaration, or will we end up paying too much insurance over a long amount of time? Is it worth it to just pay for our uninsured losses ourselves?"
The state holds a $25 million (with 3 percent deductible) flood insurance policy. If the Federal Emergency Management Administration helps the university, the agency may require very high coverage that could prove more costly in the long run, officials said.
McClain has told the governor and Legislature he will look to them to make the university "whole," and yesterday he said the university will "do everything we can at the federal level and then come to the state."
As Inouye was escorted through the damaged Hamilton Library basement and the Biomedical Sciences building, the structures had been stripped down to interior wall studs in many places, with flooring and drywall torn out because of concerns about mold. The Biomedical Sciences tower has just had electricity restored and researchers are finally able to return to work on $20 million in critical National Institute of Health research grants.
The Texas disaster recovery firm BMS CATASTROPHE, which helped clean up damage at the Pentagon following 9/11 and has been working at UH from the first week, is expected to complete cleaning and sanitizing UH buildings by the end of the year.
In the short-term, the state is looking at whether to ask homeowners along the stream for easements to allow work along the banks to correct erosion.
Agencies also are looking at: creating a catch basin within Manoa park by deepening and widening an existing drainage ditch; raising the height of Woodlawn Drive between the bridge and Noelani School to keep the stream channeled during flood conditions; installing breakaway fences rather than chain link which collected debris and channeled water out of the stream; and potentially increasing the height of bridges which would be costly. Debris clogging the bridges forced the stream to jump its banks.
Interim UH vice president for research Jim Gaines suggested that quick fixes to protect UH could also include new retaining walls behind some of the most critical buildings.
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com or 525-8013.