ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Members of the New Hope Christian Fellowship surveyed a drainage canal behind their church Friday. The canal overflowed into the church parking lot during recent flooding. From left are Pastor Scott Shiroma, members Em Fuller and Bunny Correa and Pastor Aaron Pacheco.
Next Waiakea flood is ‘inevitable’
Residents are upset about repeated delays on a project to control the stream's overflow
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HILO » Residents along the flood-prone Waiakea Stream are tired of delays in a federal flood control project that might have prevented damage to their homes during the Feb. 2 flooding.
"They just dragged it on," said Jay Enanoria, whose house downhill from the stream was flooded for the third time this month when a drainage canal overflowed. "When can we expect the next one? It's inevitable," he said.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been working on the Waiakea Stream Flood Damage Reduction Project since 2001, when Hawaii County requested help following a major flood in 2000.
A draft report simply to determine if the project is feasible was supposed to be finished by June of this year, the corps told Hilo residents in a meeting on Feb. 14, 2007. The Corps now says the final feasibility study will be complete in June 2010.
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HILO » Some of the homes damaged by Feb. 2 flooding might have been spared if a long-delayed flood control project in an upland area of Hilo being studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been in place.
The corps has been working on the Waiakea Stream Flood Damage Reduction Project since 2001, when Hawaii County requested help following a major flood in 2000.
A draft report simply to determine if the project is feasible was supposed to be finished by June of this year, the corps told Hilo residents in a meeting on Feb. 14, 2007. The corps now says the final feasibility study will be complete in June 2010.
With floods from Waiakea Stream in 1994, 2000, and this past week, residents aren't happy with more delay.
"They just dragged it on," said Jay Enanoria, whose house downhill from the stream was flooded for the third time. "When can we expect the next one? It's inevitable," he said.
"It's going to happen every time," said Floyd Eaglin, whose home was spared but who suffered thousands of dollars damage to his fencing.
Part of the problem is money. Hawaii County paid its 50 percent share of the roughly $1.2 million study in 2004, but the corps didn't receive the final increment of its funding until last year, said spokesman Joe Bonfiglio.
Another problem may be the relatively small number of people affected. Although Mayor Harry Kim said over 100 houses were damaged, those were scattered around Hilo. Waiakea Stream appears to have damaged fewer than a dozen homes, despite five days or rain in the area totaling 37.3 inches and a revised total at nearby Waiakea Experimental Station of 40.81 inches.
Damage was a lot worse in 2000. Family members who waded in water up to their ankles this time were up to their chests in water in 2000, said a woman who didn't want her name used.
Red Cross disaster coordinator Barney Sheffield said his agency has helped six families. He finds families in need by driving around looking for damage, but the "clean" water of this flood didn't leave many marks, he said.
"There's a lot more than we've seen, because we can't see them," he said.
How the corps' Waiakea Stream study would help these people is unclear. A combination of flood control channels, walls, holding ponds, and improvements around individual houses are possible, Bonfiglio said.
But one target sticks out, an unnamed, decades-old drainage ditch about six feet deep and 20 feet wide that runs parallel to Kupulau Road behind the landmark New Hope Christian Fellowship church.
When the Waiakea Stream jumps out of its channel uphill and flows through pasture land, the Kupulau ditch is supposed to capture the hundred-yard-wide sheet of floodwater and return it to the stream at a lower spot.
Last week, the sheet of water simply rolled across the already full ditch and into the home of Clayton Azevedo and others.
The reason the ditch was already full is another channel that should never have been built, in the opinion of Eaglin and his neighbor, Walter Leite.
For 15 years, through the 1980s, they got notices that a developer wanted to create a subdivision in a flood zone next to their homes, they said. The county repeatedly turned down the request until Mayor Stephen Yamashiro's administration approved it the early 1990s, they said. Yamashiro says he doesn't remember that development.
The flooding problem for the development area was solved by a new, smaller channel carrying water to the bigger Kupulau ditch.
Within a few years, in 1994, the Kupulau ditch couldn't carry the extra load and the first big flood took place.
"I don't think it's the Corps of Engineers' problem. I can't blame them," Eaglin said.
The county permitted the new channel that swamped the Kupulau ditch, and the county should fix the problem, Eaglin said.