City: $224M ‘in jeopardy’ if controversial Ala Wai watershed project doesn’t proceed

Published: Aug. 20, 2019 at 11:40 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - City leaders are warning more than $200 million in federal funding is in jeopardy if the Ala Wai flood control project doesn’t move forward.

But it's up to Honolulu's mayor to sign off on a required agreement with the state and federal agencies.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to build the structures to protect residents from a 100-year storm that could damage 3,000 homes and cause more than $1 billion in damage.

But critics say the plan is too intrusive.

“If we’re gonna have to stand at our kahawai and fight to protect it, we will stand there, and we will. Ku kiai kahawai!" said Makiki resident Kahealani Keahi.

Robert Kroning, director of the City’s Department of Design and Construction, says the $224 million appropriated by Congress for the project could be lost at any time as other projects around the country vie for federal funding.

“The feedback that we’re getting from the headquarters USACE is that the funding is in jeopardy,” he said.

The city already missed an informal deadline on July 31 to sign a partnership deal with the state and federal agencies.

Now, the mayor says he has until the end of August to assume responsibility for the system's maintenance.

“After the 31st of August, we’re in no man’s land in terms of what happens with the remaining money,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “At the end of the day, this is about saving lives and protecting property.”

At a community meeting to get public feedback Monday evening, council members heard complaints about the plan to build six basins in Palolo, Manoa and Makiki ― some as wide as two-thirds of a football field ― plus a 4-foot-high concrete wall around the Ala Wai Canal.

“This plan is a disgrace. The idea is to get the water out to the ocean, it’s only a few hundred yards away. And the thought of making this beautiful canal into a concrete jungle is ridiculous,” said a man who lives along the Ala Wai Canal.

Ala Wai Flood Risk Mitigation Project Manager Jeffrey Herzog said under the current plan, 31 properties would be impacted; 27 of them temporarily during construction and four would be bought by the government.

Along with the $224 million from the federal government, the state is offering $125 million for the project.

The Honolulu City Council plans to vote on a resolution on Tuesday authorizing the mayor to spend about $1 million a year in city funds to keep the system operating forever.

“There’s lives at stake. Especially what happened with Wailupe Stream and Aina Haina, these rain bombs do happen, and it could happen any day. So, it’s important to get the project done. But let’s do it right,” said Honolulu City Councilman Tommy Waters.

USACE says the federal funding can be reallocated by Congress if the project doesn't proceed in a timely fashion.

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