$14M bill addressing flood fallout advances
Legislation proposed by Lingle would fund a cleanup and review of dams in the state
A week after the Kauai dam break, House lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill to spend $14 million for cleanup from recent storms and an extensive review of the state's aging dams.
Acting quickly on legislation proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle, all members at a House Finance Committee meeting voted yesterday to send the emergency legislation to the House floor.
Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, state adjutant general and Civil Defense chief, told lawmakers he has asked Brig. Gen. John Peabody of the Army Corps of Engineers to keep his experts in the state to inspect the rest of the state's dams once they're finished on Kauai.
Lee said the Army is paying for the Kauai dam inspections, where the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam burst early last week, killing up to seven people. He added that he already has told Peabody the state would foot the bill for inspecting dams on other islands.
Without the Corps' inspectors, the job would take a year or more for the state to complete, he said.
"So I ask that you help me keep my word to General Peabody," Lee said.
Others testifying yesterday included key cabinet members and Lingle herself.
The governor described how her administration responded to the Kauai dam break in the hours after the disaster.
The measure before legislators includes $1 million for the state attorney general's investigation of the failed Ka Loko Dam, $5 million for surveys and studies of the state's inventory of private and government dams, $2 million for the state's major disaster fund that covers Civil Defense costs, and $50,000 to assess whether each dam in the state is still needed.
Rep. Glenn Wakai, D-Moanalua Valley-Salt Lake, asked why the governor was coming to lawmakers when she has the power under her earlier emergency proclamations to more quickly allocate funds herself for the same purposes.
The governor also has the authority to make emergency transfers or allotments if a department has no money to provide its services. That hasn't happened -- the departments do have money, and there's been no lapse in services, said state Attorney General Mark Bennett.
So the question then is whether to get the money through executive order or through the Legislature, which normally appropriates funds and can fit emergency funding into the state's budget, he said in an interview.
A bill makes the most sense, Bennett said.
"It makes certain that the money that is needed by the people of Kauai will be there and also gives legislative oversight to the process, which is part of our constitutional system," he said.
Bennett said his investigation into the Kauai dam break, being conducted by two experts with a number of subpoenas for documents, will be an "extraordinary expense" for his department, and there is no indication when it will be concluded.
The bill was passed out of committee with amendments to create a system for state agencies to report how they are using the emergency funds and to address concerns over potential problems in the irrigation system downstream from Ka Loko Reservoir.
Committee member Rep. Hermina Morita, whose district encompasses the region, said nearby farms make up one of the largest organic farming areas on the island and possibly the largest in the state.