Ka Loko seller maintains dam owner created hazard
Workers complained to Kauai County officials that Ka Loko Dam owner James Pflueger covered the reservoir's emergency spillway in 1997 or 1998, creating a potentially dangerous situation, a spokesman for C. Brewer & Co. said yesterday.
C. Brewer maintenance workers at the reservoir "told Mr. Pflueger that filling in the spillway could be dangerous, and they reported it to the county," company spokesman Jim Boersema said yesterday. They "could do no more than that. Pflueger owned the land."
Pflueger has filed suit in Oahu Circuit Court against C. Brewer and others for the Ka Loko Dam breach that killed seven people March 14. He alleges that C. Brewer knowingly sold him the dam in 1987 even though it had structural problems.
Pflueger's attorney, William McCorriston, said yesterday that if anyone had complained to the county about the blocked spillway, it would have been included in the numerous claims the county made against his client.
Starting in 2001, the county filed a lawsuit and criminal charges against Pflueger for illegal grading work at his makai property near Pilaa, as well as grading work done on the other side of Ka Loko Reservoir. He was fined a total of about $12 million.
"If the county had (received) a complaint, they had ample opportunity" to ask Pflueger to fix it, McCorriston added. "Everything the county ... complained about, we fixed."
While Boersema said he could not identify the maintenance staff who witnessed the blocking of the spillway, he believed Tom Hitch, the current owner of Kilauea Irrigation Co., was likely employed by C. Brewer at the time of the spillway work.
Hitch, who is also being sued by Pflueger, would not comment on the spillway, and neither would his lawyer, Peter Morimoto.
"We don't want to try this case in the media," Morimoto added.
State investigators and others close to the Ka Loko breach case said they had heard rumors about a county Department of Public Works report that included a complaint about the spillway. But they have yet to receive a copy of the report, although they have subpoenaed all county records on Ka Loko.
Kauai County Engineer Donald Fujimoto was on Oahu and could not be reached for comment.
Boersema, who was responding to the lawsuit filed Wednesday by Pflueger against the former "Big Five" sugar company, also said the lawsuit's premise was false.
Pflueger's suit says C. Brewer was negligent and committed fraud by selling the dam in 1987 without notifying Pflueger of any trouble. A 1982 federal draft report about the dam, McCorriston said, mentions seepage from the dam and says the irrigation system would cost $1.8 million to fix.
The Mary Lucas Trust, which owns half of the reservoir, received a copy of that report, Boersema said yesterday, and Pflueger was the co-trustee of the trust.
"Nothing was hidden from him," Boersema said.
McCorriston denied that Pflueger ever received the draft report, and said that he "has no memory of receiving" the 1984 final report on the irrigation system.
He added, "The important thing was that it was not disclosed in the sale."
Boersema also denied the lawsuit's claim that the irrigation system was faulty. C. Brewer employees "did do normal maintenance every month" to the Ka Loko irrigation system, he added.
"The problems didn't start until he (Pflueger) filled up the spillway," he added.