Ka Loko report is a blueprint for legislative remedy
GOVERNMENT neglect, political interference and a landowner scornful of the law
An investigation determined that a series of failures led to the reservoir disaster.
created a lethal combination that resulted in the failure of the Ka Loko Reservoir on Kauai, according to a 600-page report
Though all these circumstances contributed to the deaths of seven Kauai residents in the flood from Ka Loko last March, the obligation for remedy at Hawaii's earthen reservoirs rests with state and county authorities.
The report, issued in an independent investigation of the disaster, lays out what went wrong and what should be done to avoid another disaster. Coupled with a new study of 11 dams and reservoirs being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the report provides a solid blueprint for lawmakers, the state and counties.
Although the investigation directed by Robert Godbey, an attorney and engineer, emphasizes that its aim was not to assign legal blame, the report points to failure upon failure by individuals and government agencies.
Among the findings was that the state had never inspected Ka Loko even though it was required to do so at least every five years. Had it been inspected, the lack of a spillway -- key to controlling water flow -- and other flaws that might have contributed to the breach could have been pinpointed.
The report says that the state's rationale that Ka Loko's owner, James Pflueger, ignored numerous requests for entry to his property for inspections and that it does not have enough inspectors doesn't absolve it of responsibility.
Legislators should change laws that obstruct inspections on private property when health and safety are at risk. In addition, the administration and lawmakers should provide needed funding to hire more inspectors. The state also should consider strengthening its oversight of water systems that, like Ka Loko, were surrendered after big agriculture companies went out of business.
The investigation places a large portion of responsibility for Ka Loko destruction on the lack of an emergency spillway that might have been covered by owner Pflueger in 1997 or 1998 as he cleared land for home sites. Pflueger, who denies he plugged the spillway, contends Ka Loko was already in bad shape when he bought it. If so, the report asserts, Pflueger, who has been repeatedly fined for regulatory and legal violations on his land, still was obligated to maintain the reservoir and fix any problems.
One of the most serious of the report's findings was that of political interference by then-Kauai Mayor Maryanne Kusaka. Kusaka, an acquaintance of Pflueger's, told a deputy county engineer to back off on a complaint that the landowner was illegally grading land at Ka Loko and to send further complaints to his supervisor, whose daughter was employed by Pflueger.
A notice of violation had already been sent, but never enforced. Had the notice "been enforced, the spillway might never have been filled in," the report stated.