HONOLULU LITE EXTRA
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Charles Memminger kayaks at the intersection of Ahua and Kilihau streets in Mapunapuna, which floods at high tide.
Rising tide doesn't exactly lift all spirits in Mapunapuna flood zone
I WAS PADDLING my kayak down Ahua Street in Mapunapuna the other day, and ... No, seriously. I was. And it wasn't even raining. It was high tide. Ahua Street, at the intersection with Kilihau Street, apparently is the only road in the United States that is submerged twice a day according to the whims of the ocean -- and the weird thing is that it isn't anywhere near the shoreline. It's inland from Keehi Lagoon about a mile, but every high tide, a few Mapunapuna businesses become oceanfront property.
I learned about this aquatic anomaly when looking at new cars with Mike Barker, sales manager with Servco Auto Honolulu. Mike and another salesman were driving me to a car lot several blocks from the main showroom in Mapunapuna when Mike told his buddy, "Wait. It's high tide. We can't go this way."
I thought he was kidding. But after we took a more circuitous route to the parking lot, I saw the section of Ahua Street that we would have had to drive through. It was under about a foot of water.
"That's not rainwater," Mike said. "That's salt water. From the ocean."
HOW VERY STRANGE that a small section of Mapunapuna becomes part of the Pacific Ocean while the rest of this industrial warehouse section of town is unaffected.
Keith Kawai, general manager of United Truck Rental, whose driveway looks more like a boat ramp twice a day, also was surprised when he went to work near the tidal basin a few months ago.
His rental trucks leave through another driveway to avoid the ocean water, which can damage the engines and undercarriages of the vehicles.
"People drive through it like it's nothing," said Steven Jones, who has worked at the truck rental site for years. As if on cue, a car sped down Ahua Street, slamming through the water and putting up a wake that would make a water skier proud.
"They don't know it's salt water," Steve laughed as the clueless driver heads toward Nimitz Highway.
The high tides have become something of an amusement for the United Truck Rental workers.
"You have these 'drifter cars,'" said Kawai, "low to the ground. They think they can fly through here, and they end up stalling when the salt water splashes into the engine. It's entertaining."
The problem is worse after several days of rain, when a lot of Mapunapuna floods. During the 40 days of rain this winter, some businesses reportedly floated away. Ron's Performance Center, directly across from the truck rental business, didn't -- mainly because it had moved away a year earlier because of the flooding and tide problems.
Sales manager Cliff Teraoka, who has been with Ron's for 30 years, said the ocean water was not an amusing aspect of running a business there.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mike Barker stands at an intersection of Ahua Street in Mapunapuna that floods at high tide.
"Comes a high tide, it was a big-time problem," he said. For a business that deals in high-performance autos, it wasn't a good calling card to have one or two feet of salt water outside your doorway.
"One of our guys had a Monte Carlo, and it got all rusty and rotten," he said.
Now Ron's is high and dry in Iwilei, and Cliff is down with that.
Nationwide Self Storage is moving onto the old Ron's site, but Angela Hines, the construction manager there with Swinerton Builders, pointed out that their ground-level floors will be three feet higher than the previous building's. Three feet didn't seem to me to be high enough, considering that area is technically below sea level. Maybe the building could be built on pontoons?
I strolled along the water's edge with Hines, a young woman from Texas in a yellow hard hat, who said, "This is the first construction site I've worked at where I've needed a tide chart."
She wasn't kidding. And then she added, "Did you see the fish?"
We walked over to a storm drain that was at least a foot underwater, and -- what do you know -- fish! Swimming all over Ahua Street! I think they were tilapia or some other kind of fish that can withstand water that is a combination of salt water, drainage and all the yucky oily stuff that collects on a major roadway. The fish, at least, looked happy if not tasty.
WHICH BRINGS US to why this area happens to flood: The storm drains are connected to various inlets that connect to Keehi Lagoon. When the tide comes in at Keehi, the ocean is forced up the inlets, through the storm drains, and, presto, Ahua Street become an aquarium, with fish and everything.
I tried to get someone from the city-and-county roads department to tell me what could be done to stop the tidal flooding, but they apparently were all too busy not patching potholes. I suspect it's just one of those problems that wouldn't merit the multimillion-dollar price tag to fix. I mean, you could build some dikes, like they do in New Orleans, but you saw how well that worked. You could spend millions raising Ahua Road, but why? Just so that some dummies in hot cars don't stall out when they slam through three feet of salt water? And what would the guys at United Truck Rental do for entertainment?
As the pioneer of "investigative humorism," I decided to get up close and personal with the phenomenon. So I lugged my kayak down there and launched into the really disgusting water and paddled down the street. It wasn't the brightest thing I've ever done, considering people have actually died from dirty floodwaters. It was a little disconcerting to paddle by a yellow fire hydrant that had been completely rusted out by daily saltwater baths.
As I paddled, some cars continued to drive through the water. Other drivers turned around when they saw the mini-salt lake. I guess they figured out that if the water is so deep that there's a crazy kayaker sharing your lane, maybe you should take a different road.
Keith Kawai was kind enough to let me hose off in his truck rental yard afterward, and so far no major infections have developed and no limbs have fallen off. As far as investigative humorism goes, that's a good thing.