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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 8, 2004

Governor expands storm aid

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Gov. Linda Lingle signed an amended disaster proclamation yesterday to make state loans available to victims of storm damage in March and April, and to provide money to clear storm debris that is blocking the Hamakua Ditch.

The ditch has been plugged since late March, when heavy rains washed tons of gravel, dirt and other debris into the irrigation system.

"Basically it rained harder than I had ever seen it rain here, and it kept raining," said Lorie Farrell, vice president of the Hamakua-North Hilo Agricultural Co-op. "We just got pounded for days."

The debris blocked the flow of water through the ditch at an area known as Flume 15 between Kukuihaele and Honoka'a, forcing state officials to divert the irrigation water into the ocean, said Brian Kau, administrator and chief engineer with the state Department of Agriculture.

The state operates the irrigation system, and Kau said it will cost up to $125,000 to clean the ditch and repair damaged footings. He said he hopes to have the project completed this summer.

With the latest amendment to the disaster proclamation, Lingle's declaration now covers the period from Dec. 7 to April 15, making it possible for state Civil Defense to tap money from the state's Major Disaster Fund to pay for the ditch repairs.

Under a separate program administered by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the declaration also makes it possible for homeowners to qualify for personal loans of up to $35,000, and for businesses to qualify for loans of up to $75,000 to repair storm damage.

The 24-mile Hamakua ditch serves more than 90 farms and 10 ranches, but Farrell said farmers along the ditch have not suffered extensive crop damage despite the loss of irrigation water.

The farmers had expected interruptions in the water supply because the flow had to be shut off for construction of the second phase of the Hamakua Ditch restoration project, which was under way when the storm hit. Most farmers along the ditch had contingency plans in response to the anticipated flow stoppage and some have access to reservoirs along the ditch to help irrigate crops, she said.

Farrell said other farmers along the ditch have held off from planting, preferring to see how the ditch performs after completion of the first restoration phase last year, when water began flowing again for the first time in years.

"They wanted to see the water flow in the ditch for a while before they bet money on it," she said.

The governor signed an earlier version of the disaster proclamation shortly before Christmas to assist businesses in Mapunapuna on O'ahu that sustained damage in heavy rain Dec. 7 to 8.

For details about the state loan program, call the DBEDT hot line at 586-2577.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.