THE KAUAI DAM CRISIS
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Koloa resident Neal Iseri explained yesterday how he had been gradually placing sandbags around his property for three weeks in anticipation of possible flooding, given the length of time it has been raining on Kauai.
State wants federal disaster aid
Citing a "great amount of damage" to agricultural fields, roads and private property from heavy rains, state officials said yesterday they were about to request a federal disaster declaration for parts of waterlogged Kauai and Oahu.
State Civil Defense officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were to begin a joint assessment of damage on Oahu late yesterday and possibly on Kauai this weekend, said Ed Teixeira, Hawaii's vice director of Civil Defense.
"The data we get from that and over the next few days will go toward justification for a presidential disaster declaration," Teixeira said during a news conference by key state agencies.
Teixeira gave no time line for such a declaration, which opens access to a range of federal disaster aid funding, saying that was up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House.
"I don't want to create false hopes," he said.
But when asked of Hawaii's chances, Teixeira noted the expected huge cost of cleaning up large amounts of debris dumped on roads and on private and public property by persistent flooding.
"In my professional opinion, this is beyond the state's capacity to remove," he said.
Teixeira said what Hawaii needs most from Washington is money.
"We have the manpower," he said.
Sandra Kunimoto, chairwoman of the state Department of Agriculture, said a state low-interest emergency loan program for farmers is now accepting applications and that federal help also could be around the corner.
Noting a "great amount of damage" to farms and the vitally important rural roads connecting them to their markets, Kunimoto said the state might seek a separate disaster declaration by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That would trigger federal loans and other assistance for local farmers.
She said the state was only beginning to assess the agricultural damage on Oahu and Kauai, and it was "a little too early to say" what the federal response would be.
However, "at least a couple of counties qualify," she said, noting that individual farmers must show loss of 30 percent of their crops to be eligible. Damage assessments will begin "as soon as possible."
"We're still dealing with managing the situation and may not be able to get in there yet to do a damage assessment," she said.
Alan Kennett, president and general manager of Kauai sugar cane grower Gay & Robinson, said the company expects to "take a bath" on this year's crop.
Besides the stunting effects of too much water, crops on the 7,500-acre plantation near Hanapepe in the south are also virtually inaccessible due to rain damage to roads. Half of the plantation's 213 unionized workers have been idled, he said.
Major road repairs will be necessary after the rains, which will likely delay harvesting due to start in a couple of weeks, he said.
"It's an unbelievable problem. We're expecting to see quite a big decline in this year's harvest," Kennett said.
In Kilauea on northern Kauai, Phil Green's problem is, bizarrely, not enough water.
The owner of Kauai Organic Produce needs to quickly wash and move out the organic yellow ginger he is now trying to harvest. But problems at his water source -- the Ka Loko Reservoir, whose dam collapsed on Tuesday -- have virtually cut off the flow.
"The impact is really great, you know," said Green, who will host a meeting of area farmers and political leaders at his farm today to discuss agricultural issues.
Kunimoto said the extent of agricultural damage could take months or even longer to know, noting that some crops might seem fine now but later succumb to "root rot" and problems related to excess moisture.
"It's not just the pounding of the rains and damage from flooding. It's also in the aftermath, when disease can set in," she said.
For now the department is offering its emergency loans to afflicted farmers at an initial ceiling of $25,000 per applicant. Several already are being processed. Higher amounts might also be approved, she said.
More information is available from the department's Agricultural Loan Division at 973-9460.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation is moving reinforcement personnel to Kauai from Maui and the Big Island, said Deputy Transportation Director Brennon Morioka. They will relieve crews that have been working 36-hour stretches to keep roads open there, particularly the segment of Kuhio Highway damaged by the Ka Loko Dam collapse.
Due to continued heavy rain and runoff, Morioka said crews have been unable to gauge the extent of repair work to the washed-away shoulder of the road, which is now essentially a one-lane highway with traffic directed by police. It could take two to four months to get the highway fully open again, he said.
"We want to take our time and do what's best," Morioka said.