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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Waikane flooding riles drivers

 •  Wastewater spills into streams

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

WAIKANE — Floodwaters in this rural Windward community have taken a toll for decades, closing the only road north from Kane'ohe, damaging cars, causing people to miss work and stranding children at school.

Angie Won, who lives in Kahalu'u and works in Ka'a'awa, says she's tired of the flooding that occurs near the Waikane Stream bridge every time there's a heavy rain — most recently yesterday morning, as a storm continued to soak Windward communities.

"We're all fed up with this," Won said. "I can't get to work and I can't get out. It's unacceptable that nothing is being done about it."

Public officials said there is no plan to address the problem because the stream is privately owned and the owners are responsible for keeping it clear. The state Department of Transportation has responsibility for keeping the bridge unclogged and said it would do so.

Won, like so many Windward residents from Kahuku to Kane'ohe, has put up with the problem for as long as she can remember but she said she doesn't want to anymore, especially since damaging her car on Friday as she attempted to get home before heavy rains completely blocked the highway.

Won, who drives a 1995 Nissan Sentra, said that on Friday afternoon, Civil Defense workers were directing traffic through Waikane, one lane at a time. Other small cars made it through, she said, but when she entered the floodwater, it was deeper and stronger than she realized.

A log caught under her car and when she reached drier ground, she wasn't able to move. The Fire Department was called to lift the car and remove the log.

She was able to drive the car but it needed repairs, so she's renting a vehicle and considering whether to purchase a new car if the repairs are too costly. Won said she's not sure how she could afford a new car, but she might have no other choice.

Four of the seven teachers at Ka'a'awa Elementary School live beyond Waikane and have trouble getting to work when the stream floods.

Maraea Kaniho, who works at the school, said the employees who can't get to work suffer and the remaining staff that has to cover for them also pays the price.

Parents who have children in the A-Plus after-school program have to go around the island to pick up their children, she said, and caregivers are forced to stay late.

"It's an expensive problem," Kaniho said. "It doesn't stop (in Waikane). It's a domino effect."

Just yesterday morning, a friend of Kaniho's was swept into the oncoming lane while driving through the floodwaters. It was dark and the friend panicked. She called Kaniho, who called 911.

Maureen Malanaphy, who also works at Ka'a'awa Elementary School, said she has been through the floodwaters many times and they're deceptive, sometimes coming up as high as the car window. Once she went through and everything was OK until she stopped her car in Kane'ohe and couldn't restart it.

"They know it's a problem and they know it will flood," Malanaphy said. "We don't understand why nothing can be done to fix that."

Won said she has started calling her legislators, other state officials and city agencies. She said she wasn't sure what the legislators would do, but the city road maintenance division told her the flooding was the state's responsibility.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said the private landowners of Waikane Stream are responsible for keeping it clear of debris.

Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the state DOT, said that the department is responsible for keeping the drainage under the bridge open and that a crew had cleaned it recently.

Ishikawa said the state isn't working on a plan to address the flooding but people have asked about building a viaduct or raised highway there. A raised highway would be expensive and could make the situation worse, he said.

"The question would be how much additional flooding would there be in surrounding residences," Ishikawa said. "For now we'll take a look to see if there's an obstruction."

John Reppun, who has lived and farmed in the area for decades, said the flooding is caused by overgrown hau trees that block the free flow of water to the ocean. Farmers and landowners need to keep the stream cleared on their side, but the city owns the land on the makai side, Reppun said.

"It's a chronic problem that can be resolved by tunneling through the hau to alleviate the backup," he said.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.