Sunday, May 9, 2004

Lingle decree addresses
Big Island ditch problem

A disaster proclamation is extended
to help fix Lower Hamakua Ditch

HONOKAA, Hawaii >> The 25-mile Lower Hamakua Ditch, an irrigation facility that serves more than 100 farms and ranches north of Hilo, is so full of mud and other debris from recent storms that it may be shut down for months, said Walker Sanders, one of the directors of the Hamakua - North Hilo Agricultural Cooperative.

Gov. Linda Lingle offered help Friday in the form of an extension of an existing disaster proclamation.

Originally issued in December to cover damage in the Salt Lake area and already extended statewide in March, the proclamation was extended yesterday to cover statewide storm damage through April 12.

The proclamation makes available low-cost loans to individuals and businesses, and speeds procedures for repairing public facilities such as roads.

Sanders said damage to the Hamakua Ditch is still being surveyed and a cost estimate isn't yet available.

A public meeting for ditch water users with state Rep. Dwight Takamine (D-North Hilo, Hamakua, North Kohala) and other officials is scheduled for 4 p.m. tomorrow at the Honokaa High School cafeteria.

In numerous locations, gravel was washed into the ditch for hundreds of yards, he said. "Water diversions" that are supposed to carry rain runoff over the ditch failed and dumped debris in the ditch, he said.

Built in 1910 to serve the sugar industry, the ditch fell into disrepair after the closure of the Hamakua Sugar Co. in 1994. The worst damage was before that in 1989 when a tunnel that carried the water on part of the route collapsed.

After the ditch essentially went dry for several years, it was restored to use just last summer.


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