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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 18, 2006

State attorney general's investigation widening

 •  Federal aid sought in recovery efforts

By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state attorney general's office, which is demanding records involving the construction and maintenance of Kaloko Reservoir dam, also has issued subpoenas for the owner and contractors of the nearby Waikalua Reservoir as well as a real-estate agent who sold properties along Wailapa Stream several years ago.

The growing investigation, which so far involves a half-dozen subpoenas to property owners and contractors, centers on what caused the Kaloko dam to breach Tuesday, resulting in a 300-million-gallon surge of water that killed three people and left four others missing.

Two of the landowners subpoenaed retired car dealer Jimmy Pflueger and the Mary N. Lucas Trust said through their attorneys that they are cooperating with the state's investigation.

A third, the Kilauea Farms Community Association, received a subpoena yesterday, according to Ming Fang, president of the association, which owns the Waiakalua Reservoir near the Kaloko dam.

"I think they want to cover every angle of the situation," said Fang, whose subpoena asked him to appear for an interview with investigators in Lihu'e on March 28. The subpoena also asks for all records relating to the upkeep of the Waiakalua Reservoir.

In addition to landowners, the state recently subpoenaed and interviewed a real-estate agent who sold properties along Wailapa Stream several years ago. The agent confirmed the subpoena and his interview with state investigators on the condition that his name not be used because the investigation is continuing.

Attorney General Mark Bennett yesterday characterized the state's investigation as a preliminary fact-finding effort.

He sent six investigators to Kaua'i this week to collect records and interview a half-dozen witnesses, including landowners and contractors, said Donald Wong, chief investigator for the attorney general's office.

Bennett and Wong, whose investigative team flew back to O'ahu yesterday to brief the attorney general, declined to discuss preliminary findings.

"We're still looking at the situation," Wong said. "If it turns out that that there was a crime, we will divert it into a criminal investigation. If it turns out that there were civil violations, then we will divert it into a civil investigation."

Bennett again declined to comment when asked whether the state will pursue criminal charges or civil remedies.

The state also sent to Kaua'i its private consultants on the dam disaster, including University of Hawai'i civil and environmental engineering professor Horst Brandes and Joseph Kulikowski, an Irvine, Calif., engineering consultant who specializes in dam- safety issues. Brandes and Kulikowski did not return calls.

Bennett said the state's investigation has no scheduled conclusion. He said the state's experts have examined the Kaloko and Waiakalua dams as well as the Morita Reservoir, which suffered heavy damage from debris sent downstream by the collapse of the Kaloko dam.

Investigators and the state's experts will return to Kaua'i to conduct further interviews and examinations once weather conditions improve, the attorney general said.

"We have served a significant number of subpoenas, and I would expect that we will serve more," Bennett said.

Fang, who owns the Waiakalua Plantations that grow tropical fruit, said 86-year-old Waiakalua Reservoir has been owned for more than a decade by the Kilauea Farms Community Association, whose members include several nearby farms.

The reservoir, which is several minutes away from the Kaloko Reservoir, previously was owned by C. Brewer & Co. and was never owned by Pflueger or the Mary Lucas Trust, he said.

Fang said the state Department of Land and Natural Resources inspected the Waiakalua Reservoir about three years ago and found no problems. He said the water levels at the reservoir are now high but not unsafely so.

Carroll Taylor, court-appointed trustee for the Mary Lucas Trust, declined comment on the investigation yesterday but expressed his sympathy for the victims and their families. Taylor said on Thursday that his client is working with investigators.

Bill McCorriston, Pflueger's attorney, could not be reached for comment on the latest subpoenas, but had said on Thursday that his client is cooperating with the investigation as well.

Attention has focused on Pflueger because he was cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 for illegal grading work on property near the Kaloko Reservoir. An EPA spokesman said this week that the agency does not believe the dam failure at Kaloko was related to Pflueger's work in the area. Pflueger issued a statement Wednesday saying he had not done any construction work on the Kaloko dam.

Earlier this month, Pflueger agreed to a $7.5 million settlement of county, state, federal and community-group legal actions resulting from landscaping work at Pila'a on the northeast shore of Kaua'i that led to large volumes of mud ending up on the nearshore reef.

On Thursday, Peter Young, director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the state had no record of inspecting the Kaloko dam.

Staff writer Jan TenBruggencate contributed to this report.

Reach Rick Daysog at rdaysog@honoluluadvertiser.com.