(Star Advertiser) Decision on controversial Ala Wai flood plan delayed

(Source: Star Advertiser)

  • BRUCE ASATO / AUGUST 2018

    Concerns about the Ala Wai Canal overflowing are at the center of a proposed $345 million flood mitigation project. The canal turns brown after heavy rain with runoff from streams that feed it.

Facing opposition from scores of residents, the Honolulu City Council delayed any decision on the controversial $345 million Ala Wai flood mitigation project.

The Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, composed of all nine Council members, deliberated for more than five hours without voting on any of the items on its agenda before agreeing around 6 p.m. to recess until 1 p.m. today.

A full Council meeting — which was to take place after the committee meeting — was postponed until 2 p.m. today.

At the heart of Tuesday’s committee meeting was Resolution 19-182, which authorizes Mayor Kirk Caldwell to accept up to $125 million from the state for the flood control project aimed at easing concerns that a large-scale storm would cause the Ala Wai Canal to overflow, submerging much of Waikiki in the process.

Committee Chairman Ron Menor said the additional time will give all Council members and the public a chance to review the latest draft of the resolution.

The project has generated lively objections from those living and working mauka of the Ala Wai Canal who worry that improvements aimed at helping Waikiki will increase the potential for flood damage in their own communities, including Manoa and Palolo valleys, McCully, Moiliili, Makiki and Kapahulu.

The administration and local officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers want the Council to approve the plan by Aug. 31 to ensure the $245 million federal share of the project remains available. Jeff Herzog, the corps’ Ala Wai Flood Risk Management Project manager, said that after that date, corps officials in Washington will look at a possible redistribution of the money to a project in another state.

The Council leadership had agreed to fast-track the flood project decision, waiving the normal six-day holding period between a committee vote and a full Council vote and instead planning to take both votes Tuesday.

But scores of residents urged Council members to hold off on a decision until more information can be made public.

Palolo resident Brad Frye, whose house is about 100 feet from Palolo Stream, called the Ala Wai plan inadequate and warned not to turn the project into “a fiasco” like the over-budget Honolulu rail project. “It does not evaluate the proposed design versus any alternatives, not from an engineering, political, stakeholder or fiscal standpoint,” he said. “This is not the right way to make a $345 million decision with ongoing unknown maintenance costs and major impacts to numerous stakeholders.”

Kaimuki resident David Frankel said building walls around the canal would negatively affect lower-lying regions such as Kapahulu, McCully and Moiliili.

“The water that would have flowed through Waikiki would backfill into those neighborhoods,” Frankel said. “So in order to save Waikiki, you’re screwing the communities that live on the other side of the canal. That’s just wrong. It is absolutely unjust to save Waikiki at the expense of residents of Moiliili, McCully (and) Kapahulu.”

Several residents noted that the Council last month passed Resolution 19-145, which calls on the administration to address concerns about the Ala Wai project raised by the community and explore alternative flood mitigation plans that would be less harmful to upper-elevation communities. Approving the flood project now would contradict the intent of the earlier measure, they said.

An official with the Caldwell administration said the city is taking into consideration the concerns and suggestions residents have raised.

“We’re hearing, we’re listening and we’re performing analysis on it,” said Robert Kroning, director of design and construction. Many of the issues raised by residents can be addressed later in the process, but losing the money now likely “would push the project way into the future,” increasing the potential risks, he said.

Herzog, the project manager, was equally emphatic that the corps would not proceed with a plan that increases the potential for harm to the community.

“It’s illegal, immoral and unethical for us to induce risk,” he said, adding that his agency is doing what it can to reduce flood risk in those lower areas as well.

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