FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
John Hawthorne is a resident living along Wailapa Stream. Behind him is the washed-out area of the stream at the bottom of his property. The grooves and ruts in the grass behind him were caused by uprooted trees dragged over the area by the floodwaters of the dam failure. His property is about 200 yards downstream of Kuhio Highway. CLICK FOR LARGE
Kauai flood victims unite
An alliance of residents seeks an independent investigation of the Ka Loko Dam breach
KILAUEA, Kauai » The majority of homeowners along Wailapa Stream below Kuhio Highway have formed an alliance and are calling for an independent investigation of the Ka Loko Dam breach.
Yesterday, the alliance sent a letter via Kauai attorney Theresa Tico supporting an attempt by state Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) to require an independent investigation into the cause of the March 14 dam breach, which killed three people and left four others missing and presumed dead.
Hooser tried to add an attachment to an emergency flood-funding bill, requiring the state hire an investigator to look into the breach. He questioned the appropriateness of a state office investigating other state agencies, adding that many constituents shared his opinion.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett's office is spearheading the investigation. At a Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting yesterday, Bennett told lawmakers that he has complete confidence in his staff to conduct a fair investigation.
He added that on the day of the flood, his office retained a nationally recognized expert on dam safety and an expert from the University of Hawaii to immediately start assessing the situation to prevent any loss of evidence.
"By far, the most important thing that dwarfs whether certain people on Kauai have confidence or not, is that the job is done right," Bennett said. "Whether or not people subjectively have confidence in it or not -- a limited group of people -- is in my view far down on the chart in terms of relevance."
The alliance is made up of 30 people affected by the flood, including Bruce Fehring, who lost three immediate family members and four friends staying on his property. The alliance pointed out alleged conflicts of interest in their support for Hooser's amendment.
"The state of Hawaii has potential liability in this matter, and, therefore, the state attorney general should not investigate the state of Hawaii," the letter read. "The attorney general's former law partner is James Pflueger's lead attorney," William McCorriston.
The Bennett-McCorriston connection "presents an obvious conflict of interest," it continued. "Mr. Pflueger, as part owner of Ka Loko Reservoir, faces potential liability, if not strict liability, for the catastrophe."
At yesterday's Senate hearing, Hooser said: "This is not just about the dam breaking. This is about surrounding events, in my opinion, that contributed to that.
"It's not just about the landowner, it's about activities -- creating stream diversions and creating other actions -- to what contributed to this event and the government's action, or inaction, that may have allowed this to happen."
Hooser was unsuccessful in his attempt to require an independent investigation, but Senate leadership said the option would still be considered as the bill proceeds through the Legislature.
John Hawthorne, a Wailapa resident and alliance member, said that for years, Pflueger wanted a full reservoir.
"They've hoarded the water for years until (Ka Loko) couldn't hold it anymore," he added. "Everybody's been too afraid to speak."