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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 7, 2006

Flood-relief requests rise $20 million

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

The state's emergency response to the storms that have saturated the Islands with rain could swell by $20 million as state and county officials continue to assess the damage.

The Lingle administration had requested $14.3 million in emergency spending last month, which was approved by the state House, but the state Senate Ways and Means Committee heard the need for more money yesterday.

Heavy rains persisted well after the administration's first request and ended with a powerful downpour last Friday that swept through O'ahu.

The state is asking for an additional $7 million to contain landslides around upper Round Top and Maunalaha that have threatened homes and public safety, and $3 million to stabilize land on the Manoa Valley side of Round Top. Another $2 million would go to assess and repair damage to state parks and other state lands.

The state needs $2.5 million for a controlled breach to drain the Kailua Reservoir in Waimanalo, which is in danger of failing and damaging homes if there is another storm. The state also wants $1.2 million to dredge and remove mud and sand at the Wailoa River in Hilo that has been a hazard to boats and fishermen.

Honolulu is asking to be eligible for a preliminary $5 million in state money to help repair basic city infrastructure.

"We're dealing with 43 days of rain and the cumulative damage across the state," said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state's adjutant general, after the committee hearing.

State Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Manoa, McCully), the chairman of the committee, said he will review the new requests before the Senate approves the emergency money and it goes to a House and Senate conference committee for final revisions.

"We want to make sure it's directed toward the right things," Taniguchi said.

Other senators are questioning administration officials about their response to the Kaloko dam breach on Kaua'i that killed seven people.

State Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim, D-14th (Halawa, Moanalua, Kamehameha Heights), said she wants to know why the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has not considered billing private property owners for some of the costs of dam surveys or repairs since the Kaloko failure.

The administration's emergency request includes $5 million to survey the integrity of private and publicly owned dams statewide.

Private landowners are responsible for maintaining their dams but the department is expected to do inspections. Peter Young, the DLNR's director, has said the department has no record of inspecting Kaloko.

Young said he would check whether private landowners could be billed for some of the state's work, but Kim believes the department has been dragging its feet.

"Maybe if the state had done its job perhaps we wouldn't be here," Kim said.

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), got the committee to add a provision to the response package that would allow for the appointment of an independent investigator to look into the dam failure.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, has previously called for an independent investigator because he felt Attorney General Mark Bennett might have a conflict in investigating the actions of other state agencies. Hooser said he has spoken to people on Kaua'i who believe Bennett also has a conflict because he used to work at the law firm representing retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger, who owns land around the dam.

"It is the appearance of a conflict, both real and perceived," Hooser said.

Bennett has said he does not have a conflict with other state agencies and noted his office joined with the federal government to take legal action against Pflueger in a separate environmental case.

Taniguchi, the committee chairman, also said he does not believe an independent investigator is warranted at this time.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.