Sub-par Kauai levees mean some could have to buy costly flood insurance

West Kauai residents may be required to buy costly flood insurance after FEMA finds levees under par

KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Residents and businesses in Waimea and Hanapepe may be required to purchase costly flood insurance after FEMA found the levees along the rivers do not provide “a high level of protection.”

The levees were built decades ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Stanford Iwamoto, the county’s floodplain manager, says the levees will lose their FEMA accreditation because they are 4 feet too short under updated requirements.

"We're trying to work with the Corps to get a project together to raise their height to meet the flood requirements," Iwamoto said. "But the timeline depends on available funding."

Resident Juan Wilson says his Hanapepe home is less than 400 feet from the levee.

He says he's lived there since 2001 and is not surprised by the news since flooding has been an issue over the years.

"There have been other times where the river has flooded enough that neighbors have had to come and wake us up at 3 a.m. to say let's get out of here because the water's rising and it's still raining," said Wilson.

New preliminary flood maps for Hanapepe and Waimea, effective next year, show areas behind the levees now in an official high-risk flood zone.

That means property owners may now be required to purchase federally-mandated flood insurance.

Wilson says he doesn't know how his family will afford it.

"I'm retired now and I'm on a fixed income and we're just riding out the end of our mortgage. If there was another several hundred dollars attached to it, I don't know what we'd be doing for food," Wilson said.

Iwamoto estimates about 400 property owners total will be affected by the new flood mapping.

There will be two community meetings next month to address public concerns:

  • Tuesday, May 21, 2019
  • Eleele Elementary School Cafeteria (4750 Uliuli Rd, Eleele, HI 96705)
  • 6–8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 22, 2019
  • Waimea Neighborhood Center (4556 Makeke Rd, Waimea, HI 96796)
  • 6–8 p.m.

"We'll go back through some of the history on the levees and help those residents understand the requirements on flood insurance. There maybe some people who have to obtain insurance," said Iwamoto.

Until the levees can be fixed, the county will continue regular maintenance.

“The county tries to make sure that all of its drainage facilities are clear before storms and that’s really probably as much as they can do,” Iwamoto said.

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