Rain victims picking up the pieces
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
Three weeks after the sun came back, parts of O'ahu hard-hit by flooding are still recovering even as some lawmakers wonder if anything is being done to prevent further damaging floods.
"The question now is, whether it is in Manoa or down in McCully or Mo'ili'ili, what are we going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again?" said Rep. Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa-Manoa Valley-University). "We're talking a major public work."
In the aftermath of more than a month of torrential rains that battered O'ahu and Kaua'i, more than 1,000 people have called the state's 211 disaster phone line seeking information on loans and debris cleanup. Also, 224 applications for information and assistance have come in over the last three weeks at disaster recovery centers on O'ahu.
Among those just getting some relief is Koa Wagner, founder of BluePrint Audio Visual. Rain flooded the floor of the building that his business rents, requiring nearly 2,500 square feet of carpet and floor to be dried out and replaced.
Wagner said water that was supposed to drain from the third floor, saturated the second floor where his business is located. Wagner's landlord, recognizing that his building's drainage system failed, offered to pick up the $4,000 restoration cost, but Wagner still lost a week's worth of business.
"I'd say we probably lost between $10,000 to $15,000 in billable labor that we could have potentially provided," said Wagner, whose carpets were replaced yesterday. "... Everything had to be pulled apart, our computer systems were down and we weren't allowed in there for a week."
For those without private resources, assistance and prevention plans have been slow to emerge.
Federal disaster declarations and assistance have been requested but not granted, and residents seeking low-interest loans from the state are finding that in some cases, they have to apply, and be denied, by two private lending institutions before they are eligible for state assistance.
"We really need the kind of grants that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) can provide," said state adjutant general Maj. Gen. Robert Lee. "We still have more work to do. "
Many residents are learning that money they paid out-of-pocket for immediate rain-related repairs may be unrecoverable without flood insurance.
For residents seeking help with private property damaged by the rains or floods, private insurance, loan programs, and federal grants are all that is available.
"We can't extend public funds to private problems," said John Cummings of the O'ahu Civil Defense Agency. "I have gotten (calls) from a lot of frustrated people."
Sen. Clayton Hee, D-23rd (Kane'ohe, Kahuku), said some of his constituents are still working through the recovery.
"Right now, it's all about recovering costs. They have insurance concerns and they are waiting for government reimbursements," Hee said. "They had to put out initially to save their properties."
Hee said House Bill 1448 would allow taxpayers a non-refundable tax credit equal to 10 percent of the losses incurred for repairs, insurance, rental, or other expenses related to damage caused to real or personal property by the heavy rains and flooding in March.
The Legislature is currently negotiating a relief package proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle that would disburse more than $30 million. The Lingle administration had requested $14.3 million in emergency spending last month, which was approved by the state House, but that number could grow by as much as $20 million.
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. An additional $3 million has been requested to stabilize land on the Manoa Valley side of Round Top. And an additional $2 million would go to assess and repair damage to state parks and other state lands.
The state also 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 the Wailoa River in Hilo that has been a hazard to boats and fishermen.
In addition, Honolulu is asking to be eligible for a preliminary $5 million in state money to help repair basic city infrastructure.
Statistics for the number of disaster loan applications submitted by the public to the state were not immediately available.
Some of the blame for the flooding is being directed at a system of streams, canals, and drains that have not expanded as development and populations have increased. Any major public works project would require a mix of state and county funds as well as unfettered cooperation from private property owners whose land abuts state or county land.
The issue was the main topic of a town meeting this week in which more than 100 Makiki, Pawa'a and McCully residents expressed concern about Makiki Stream, which overflowed several times during the recent deluge.
Residents asked county and state officials when the stream would be dredged and what else is being done to prevent it from overflowing. Officials told the crowd that there is no quick fix to the problem and that "multiple jurisdictions," including private property owners, are responsible for maintaining the stream.
No definitive answer emerged as to when the stream will be cleared.
"With the state and city, they don't want to step into each other's boundaries because it raises issues of liability and fiscal responsibility," said Caldwell. "It's a huge, huge, jurisdictional problem."
A representative with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said no work could be done until a study is finished. The study is not scheduled to be completed until 2008 or 2009 and, after that, funding would need to be secured for the improvements.
"It's pretty clear that we need to develop a plan to deal with water flow in Makiki Stream in terms of maintenance and infrastructure," said Rep. Scott Saiki, D-22nd (McCully, Pawa'a).
Reach Peter Boylan at email@example.com.