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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 14, 2006

Kaloko resolution approved

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hermina Morita

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Neil Abercrombie

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The state House of Representatives yesterday passed a resolution urging state Attorney General Mark Bennett to appoint a special deputy to investigate the fatal Kaloko dam breach on Kaua'i because some lawmakers believe Bennett has potential conflicts.

State Rep. Hermina Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei), said the resolution would probably not satisfy people in Kilauea who are demanding an outside, independent investigator to look into the culpability of the state, the county and private landowners in the dam's failure. But she said the resolution could be revised after it moves over to the state Senate.

"We need to think this through. We need to discuss and debate it," Morita said after the House decision.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, was the first to call for an independent investigation shortly after the breach last month killed seven people and caused extensive property damage along Wailapa Stream.

Abercrombie has said that Bennett has an inherent conflict in investigating the role of state agencies such as the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which has no record of ever inspecting the dam. Other lawmakers have said Bennett has the appearance of a conflict because he used to work at the same law firm as William McCorriston, the attorney for retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger, the landowner around Kaloko.

But the congressman, and others who want an independent probe, have not been able to define exactly how it would be conducted.

The resolution would have Bennett, the person with the alleged conflict, select the special deputy. Lawmakers are discussing other options, such as providing Bennett with a list of names to choose from for an investigation.

Gov. Linda Lingle has said the Legislature could create its own special committee to examine the dam failure but believes Bennett should continue with his investigation. Bennett has said he does not have a conflict and will conduct a fair and aggressive inquiry.

House Democrats said they have high regard for Bennett's integrity, but some House Republicans said the resolution undermines Bennett. "I believe it impugns the integrity of the attorney general," said state Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-19th (Kaimuki, Kahala, Wai'alae Iki).

House Republicans noted yesterday that McCorriston has also called for an independent investigation, suggesting to them that Pflueger wants Bennett to step aside. Bennett was involved in an earlier state and federal environmental case against Pflueger that led to a $7.5 million penalty.

"Why are we trying to go with less than the best in this case?" asked state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th (Kailua, Mokapu).

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.