Public weighs in on new plans to control flooding in the Ala Wai watershed

The original plan was for a 100-year flood but it was scrapped after cost estimates spiraled to $651 million, well above the original $345 million budget.
Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 10:43 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 29, 2022 at 1:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are trying again on plans to prevent major storm flooding from the Ala Wai watershed into Waikiki.

The Corps presented seven preliminary plans, which included 51 different flood management measures, at a meeting Thursday night at the Ala Wai Golf Course Club.

The original plan was for a 100-year flood but it was scrapped after cost estimates spiraled to $651 million, well above the original $345 million budget.

Officials don’t have a new price estimate yet, but they have all kinds of ideas to keep floodwaters from overflowing into Waikiki. Some are new, but most are variations of things that have been discussed since the project began years ago.

“One alternative, for example, looks at tunnels,” said Eric Merriam, the project manager with the Corps of Engineers. “One alternative looks at a second outlet. Another alternative looks at natural, nature-based ways, like forest management and reducing impervious surfaces.”

Tunnels could divert water underground from Makiki, Manoa and Palolo, straight into the ocean or to the mouth of the Ala Wai Canal.

“If you do it right, we won’t need walls, we won’t need bypasses,” said Palolo resident Dave Watase. “If you intercept the water at Manoa District park, you save three bridges.”

Also up for discussion are retention basins.

Places such as Kanewai Park near the UH Manoa campus and the Kaimuki High School football field could be used to hold floodwaters.

At the meeting, many residents said they didn’t mind making room on the course to hold floodwaters.

“I support that 100%,” said one resident. “You just have to make sure it stays 18 holes,” he added, drawing some laughter.

Another alternative — walls.

One of the most disliked original proposals is back up for discussion. Planners said the new version won’t look like the 8 feet walls proposed in 2018 that drew major pushback.

“It might be possible, but so far, I’m not convinced that it can be done without a great deal of controversy and aesthetic damage,” said another resident at the meeting.

Another community member pointed out that the Ala Wai Canal shouldn’t be blocked from view.

City officials said there’s been at least five sets of public outreach meetings with the community to get input on the new flood prevention plans.

“They’re really a driving force behind this re-evaluation,” said Haku Milles, the acting director of the city’s Department of Design and Construction.

The Corps plans to take the input from the workshop to develop preliminary final plans, which could be ready by the end of this year or early next year.

Those proposals will also be subject to public input.

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