Dam investigation changes sought
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie says a federal or independent attorney should investigate the cause of the Ka Loko Dam failure instead of the state attorney general to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett and U.S. Rep. Ed Case said yesterday that they believe the state attorney general's office is the right agency for the job.
"We're talking about liability here, civil and possibly criminal," Abercrombie said yesterday. "We have deaths here, multiple accusations, observations finger-pointing with regard to who was responsible for what."
When the Ka Loko Dam burst March 14 on Kauai, it released a flood that washed away two homes and the seven people inside. Three bodies have been found, and the four still missing are presumed dead.
Abercrombie said he has "high personal regard" for Bennett, but "this is very rapidly morphing into a very complicated and detailed challenge in which the attorney general will very rapidly find himself immersed in conflict."
Abercrombie, who represents urban Honolulu, asked whether the public will feel comfortable with the attorney general investigating the cause of the dam's collapse, then later potentially being in charge of defending the state in a lawsuit or criminal case. Abercrombie said he will send a letter to Bennett broaching the subject and a copy to Ed Kubo, the U.S. attorney for Hawaii.
The state attorney general has "a statutory and common law responsibility to investigate this matter within the Department of the Attorney General," Bennett said yesterday. "We'll investigate as we have so far -- vigorously and aggressively. We have no conflict of interest of any kind."
"Certainly if the federal government decides it wants to conduct its own investigation, we'd obviously have no objection," Bennett said.
Case, who represents rural Oahu and the neighbor islands, agreed with Bennett. "Any violation of law in the regulation of dams is a matter of state law," he said. "There is no reason to believe that Attorney General Bennett won't fully carry out his obligation."