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Oahu flood control projects get approval, including one in the works for decades

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 9:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council has approved funding in the upcoming city budget for several flood control improvement projects, including one project that has been in the works for decades.

It’s not the project for the Ala Wai Canal, aimed at protecting Waikiki ― Hawaii’s tourism hub ― from severe flooding. That effort has been stalled and has undergone several revisions, and is currently under another review after its costs doubled to more than $650 million.

Instead, council members eyed areas like Laie, which were hard-hit by heavy rains in March.

“We saw what happened on the North Shore. Saw catastrophic flooding there,” Congressman Kai Kahele told council members during their regular meeting.

He also said he wasn’t aware of the issue regarding Laie: tiny Wailele Stream, next to BYU-Hawaii’s campus and the Polynesian Cultural Center.

“It jumps the bank here as it makes the right turn, and then when it jumps this bank at the corner, it all goes. It goes through BYUH,” said Jeff Herzog of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was part of an online presentation on the project a year ago.

The Corps of Engineers and the city actually signed an agreement on Wailele Stream in 1999.

“You all live in an area that’s threatened not only by the river coming down the mountain,” Herzog said in the presentation. “You have the coastal flooding, you have the high tides, you have sea level rise. You have an issue with water.”

In March, the stream overflowed and flooded the Polynesian Cultural Center and surrounding neighborhoods. Residents in the area say a fix is long overdue.

“There have been several major flood events in Laie where overflow of the Wailele Stream has contributed to catastrophic damage of properties, homes and businesses,” said Eric Beaver, president of Hawaii Reserves Inc., which manages lands in Laie.

The council approved $7.8 million as the city’s share of the project as a last-minute amendment to the city budget.

The Wailele Stream project is slated to include improvements to the existing stream bed, along with construction of a new drainage feature and an overflow channel.

The budget included funding for other flood control projects, such as $13.4 million for East Honolulu, $6 million for the Kalihi area, and $5 million in Waimanalo.

Council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi said the money for Laie was added late in the budget process.

“This came up pretty quickly just because of those meetings that we had in reaction to the flooding that occurred,” she said.

“The Corps of Engineers briefed me that they were ready to go, that the final report was one,” Kahele said. “The next step in the process would be that cost share agreement with the city. And I think that’s really why this snuck up on us.”

The entire project will cost $17.8 million. Most of the funding will come from the federal government, while the city and Hawaii Reserves will split the remaining share of the cost.

No date has been set to begin the project, which Kahele said will take about a year to design and another year to build.

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