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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Business blames broken main

 •  Chinatown awaits Rooster

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

A break in a water main 6 1/2 months ago in Chinatown set off a chain of events that has seriously affected antiques dealer Toraso "George" Kurisu's business and health.

Six basement-level areas of Toraso "George" Kurisu's antique shops along Maunakea Street were flooded when a city contractor broke a water main last summer. The contractor's insurer and Kurisu are still negotiating a settlement over damage claims from the flooding.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Kurisu, 61, is president and manager of Aloha Antiques Row & Collectibles. He was doing business out of five street-level shops and six basements in the J.H. Schnack and M. Kawahara buildings at the foot of Maunakea Street when a city contractor, Ted's Wiring Service Ltd., broke a 12-inch main on July 6.

Surface flow from the break did not affect Kurisu's street-level shops, but up to 5 inches of water from an open trench seeped through porous underground coral into his six basements.

Kurisu was left to do the cleanup. Because he has devoted 80 percent to 90 percent of his time to that, his business has suffered, he says.

On Jan. 11, Schnack Building landlords Edward and Yvonne Wu served Kurisu with an eviction notice for failure to pay rent. Kurisu, whose lease is up in April, says he has been paying partial rent in recent months because he believes it's the landlord's responsibility to clean up the basement. The case before District Judge Faye Koyanagi was postponed to Jan. 31.

The city contractor's insurer, First Insurance Co., offered a damage-claim settlement on Jan. 4 for less than the $100,000 Kurisu estimates his to-date losses to be. The parties are negotiating while Kurisu continues cleanup.

According to Mike Fuke, the Board of Water Supply executive in charge of maintenance, corrosion is the major cause of ruptures. He says a low percentage of water-main breaks result from roadwork.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Compounding Kurisu's predicament is a mold and mildew problem in the basements. Kurisu says that he has developed a nagging cough and that others who have been helping him have similar symptoms.

"You can see the mold growing everywhere in the basements," Kurisu said. "It's on pictures, floors, boxes. There was never a problem before this because the basements never got wet."

Kurisu's case, and the damage he says he has suffered, is much larger than most that stem from city water-main breaks.

O'ahu has averaged 413 breaks, including leaks, of mains of 4-inch diameter or larger over the 14 years since fiscal 1990-91, according to Board of Water Supply statistics. From July to October of 2004, there were 121 reported breaks.

Su Shin, the BWS's chief communications officer, said that in 2004, the leak-detection crews found and repaired 40 leaks that could have led to main breaks.

Water-main breaks have not resulted in many property damage claims. In the past six months, the Board of Water Supply has paid $12,631 on 30 claims from main breaks, said Shin.

If laid out in a straight line, BWS's network of 11 million feet of pipes would cover 2,000 miles. Mike Fuke, BWS executive for maintenance, said the budget for replacement and repair of mains is between $25 million and $35 million per year. To minimize serious breaks that disrupt communities, projects are identified six years in advance and replacement and preventive work is continuous, Fuke added.

City leak-detection crews are out each day checking for trouble.

When a break occurs, a "troubleshooter" is the first Board of Water Supply responder and is usually on scene within an hour, said Fuke.

Five-member repair crews sent out from one of the board's five field operation yards — He'eia, Manana, Wahiawa, Wai'anae and Kalihi — can begin excavation to isolate the main once the prep work is finished. "We can look at it from there and dictate what repair work needs to be done," said Fuke.

Repairs may involve putting a clamp over the bad area or cutting and replacing a section. When the work is completed and the hole filled, the Board of Water Supply will either do the surface patchwork or contract it out if the resurfacing job is too large.

It usually takes 24 hours to complete a major job, said Fuke.

Corrosion is the major cause for ruptures. And a low percentage of breaks occur from road construction work, said Fuke.

Ted's Wiring Service was working on a $623,573 contract to install street lighting when the water-main break occurred that affected Kurisu's business.

The city's Department of Design and Construction was advised by lawyers at the city counsel's office last August that Ted's Wiring is responsible for damages. The opinion was in response to an Aug. 12, 2004, negligence complaint filed by Kurisu.

Allyn Lee of Design and Construction, project manager for the job awarded to Ted's, said the contractor was advised that the city would not make final payment on the contract until all claims are settled.

Thomas Terayama, president of Ted's Wiring, said his company did all it could after the July break to pump water out of the basements.

"I feel for him," Terayama said of Kurisu. "We tried to pump stuff out, but the building is porous and not built to code. I think it's had water problems before. We notified the insurance company and I felt the thing would be taken care of."

Besides Kurisu, the Schnack Building landlord filed a claim for damages against the city in December 2004.

Kurisu was especially unlucky. Most water-main breaks do no major damage.

Manoa resident Mark Haworth considers himself lucky.

It was raining in the early evening of Martin Luther King Jr. Day when Haworth heard the sound of gushing water.

Water from a broken 8-inch main, which ruptured shortly before 7 p.m., was flowing into Haworth's roadside carport on Woodlawn Drive and out onto the stairway deck of his hillside home. Haworth, general sales manager for Cox Radio, ran up to the roadway and was able to divert the water from his carport with the help of 10 neighbors.

"The way the house is designed, if we hadn't been at home, it would have been disastrous," Haworth said. "No doubt, it was lucky for me."

Except for ankle-deep water on the floor of a recreation room in his home, Haworth said, there was no damage.

Grant Marcus, acting fire captain of the Manoa company that responded to the break, said that "all things considered, they were very fortunate."

But back on Maunakea Street, Kurisu believes he's in a hole that gets deeper every day.

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.