Special report: Kihei underwater - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Special report: Kihei underwater

David Corson David Corson

By Keahi Tucker - bio | email

KIHEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - For a long time, not too many people wanted to live in Kihei. It's flat and dry.

The old Hawaiians called it Kama'ole, which means "barren."

But these days Maui's southwest coast is lined with condos and the Internet is filled with home videos that make it look like the wettest place on earth.

The county's public works director, David Goode, has been studying the flood zone for years.

According to Goode, most of Kihei was developed in the 1970's and 1980's, before FEMA had any flood maps.

The county's flood hazard ordnance wasn't on the books until 1992. Since then, engineers have been playing catch up as visitors try not to panic.

"I work with people that are frightened. We're totally surrounded by water. South Kihei Road is a river, people are paddling up and down on kayaks and surfboards," said David Corson, vice president of AOAO Board of Directors at Maui Sunset. "And they're afraid they're going to be not only harmed, but they cant get their flight home on time."

If you think that's scary, take a deep breath. Scientists estimate a 100-year storm would funnel a volume of water into parts of Kihei equivalent to about two-thirds the summertime flow of the Colorado River -- 14,000 cubic feet per second, enough to sweep away some homes.

"Is this a problem that can be solved? Yes, you can solve anything if you have enough time and money," said Goode.

Option A: A complete re-building of Kihei's drainage infrastructure. The county already has a master plan. The design phase is underway. The price...

"I think overall your looking at something that's going to take a series of projects over 20 years. And we could be spending $5 to $10 to $15 million for each project, and that's a very vague number," Goode said.

There is an Option B that's much easier and much cheaper, but perhaps not as realistic.

"The least costly thing might be to move people out. Has that ever been seriously considered? Well, there are instances of complete towns along the Missouri River that were removed," said Goode. "That's not gonna happen in Kihei, but there might be a few where it doesn't make sense to have a structure right in the middle."

Clearly, Kihei has some difficult decision to make... Debates over spending, years of construction and inconvenience.

"it's is an increasing problem, it's not going to get any better until something is done," said Corson.

And it all starts with a reality check for a town built smack dab in the drainage path of a 10,000-foot volcano.

"It really could be a lot worse. People need to plan for that, understand that, deal with it on their own level accordingly. And we'll try to deal with it on the regional level," said Goode.

Of course, none of this is new to county officials.

Ten years ago, a federally-funded project re-constructed part of South Kihei Road.

However, the Feds withdrew the funding before it was finished because some condo groups refused to cut down some Monkeypod trees to widen the road.

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