PHOTO COURTESY OF GORDON ROSA
State officials spent the last few weeks searching for evidence of a concrete portion of the spillway at Ka Loko Reservoir. According to the property manager of the area, they found no evidence. CLICK FOR LARGE
Dam victim's dad lauds state report on Ka Loko break
Those close to the tragedy cheer the study and say it will help stem breaches
The Ka Loko dam breach report has been applauded by lawyers, legislators and even the victims' family members since its release Tuesday.
The 600-page report by Special Deputy Attorney General Robert Godbey is thorough, detailed and pulls no punches, those close to the March 14 tragedy have said.
Those who have seen the report agree that it is likely to become a starting point in both political and legal discussions for many years, as the Legislature and legal system try to figure out how to prevent another accident like the Ka Loko breach that killed seven people.
Bruce Fehring, who lost his daughter Aurora, grandson Rowan Fehring-Dingwall and son-in-law Alan Dingwall at Ka Loko, returned Tuesday from Southeast Asia, where he was on a humanitarian mission to help orphans in his daughter's name.
He wanted to be on Kauai to read the report.
From what he has read so far, "it appears to be much more comprehensive and in-depth than I thought originally. But you can't dig too deep or too often to uncover the truth."
He said he had "a knee-jerk reaction" when he saw text of a facsimile sent to dam owner James Pflueger, warning him about filling in the spillway.
"When an intelligent human being was told he could endanger lives ... and he ignores it, that just makes me think there's something wrong with that person," Fehring said.
Pflueger has denied any involvement with filling in the spillway, an emergency feature built to keep water from flowing over the top of the dam.
On Tuesday, Pflueger's attorney said the report exposes the state's and county's faults as well.
The report also states that Pflueger or his staff likely filled in the spillway, based on Kauai residents' firsthand information and Michael Dyer's fax.
Dyer, a North Shore real estate agent, has a unique perspective on the area around Ka Loko.
In 1971, when C. Brewer Co. was phasing out the sugar plantation, which used Ka Loko as its source for water, Dyer and his wife managed the property.
Then, in 1997 and 1998, Dyer made a number of trips to the reservoir with his wife, and Pflueger showed off his new housing sites.
On his first trip in 1997, when Pflueger showed him the house sites, Dyer said, he did not see the spillway. But on a subsequent hike with his wife in early 1998, he said he noticed the spillway was covered with about eight feet of fill.
That was when he faxed a note to Pflueger.
STAR-BULLETIN / APRIL 2006
In the drained-out reservoir behind Morita Dam, Gregorio Manique worked at clearing debris three weeks after the tragedy on Kauai. Morita Dam, still intact, is below Ka Loko Dam, which failed in March and caused massive flooding along Wailapa Stream. CLICK FOR LARGE
Dyer has known Fehring for 25 years. He was the real estate agent who helped Fehring with the purchase of the Wailapa Stream property, where the seven people died.
"I was shocked," Dyer said of his reaction when learning of the breach last March. "I didn't know (that the spillway) hadn't been fixed."
Dyer said he is learning more about Ka Loko from Godbey's report.
"In general, I think he did a really thorough job," he said.
Pflueger's lawyer, William McCorriston, said a number of details in the report were inaccurate.
"The report significantly lacks specific evidence whether Mr. Pflueger" covered the spillway, McCorriston said Tuesday.
Numerous experts hired by Pflueger believe the dam was weakened well before last year's heavy rain.
The report's expert, Lelio Meija, said he believed, but not with certainty, that the lack of a spillway caused water to flow over the top of the dam and caused the breach.
But McCorriston said the dam was a "time bomb" because of its construction.
Fehring said the dam was a time bomb "from the moment the spillway was filled in."
Fehring also said that he is sure that former Kauai Mayor Maryanne Kusaka "would have a hard time looking me in the eye right now" after the report raised issues about her role in the breach.
The county received an anonymous complaint against Pflueger for the grading work done to Ka Loko on the far side of the dam. But it was "buried," Fehring said, after Kusaka told the deputy county engineer to pass all complaints to county engineer Cesar Portugal, whose daughter was working for Pflueger at the time.
According to a C. Brewer Co. spokesman, a company employee made an anonymous complaint to the county about the filled-in spillway. That has not been documented.
"The mayor of Kauai obviously bent to the pressure" of a powerful landowner, Fehring said.
Kusaka said Tuesday that she had not seen the report, but that the county often cited Pflueger for grading violations. She declined to comment further because of potential legal issues.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
» Robert Godbey is the special state deputy attorney general who investigated the Ka Loko Dam breach on Kauai. An incorrect first name was given in a Page A1 article Thursday.