Plan to reduce flood threat at Maui's Wailuku River draws cultural concerns

Updated: Aug. 15, 2017 at 10:06 PM HST
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WAILUKU, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A plan to reduce flood risks at a Maui river isn't sitting well with some who are concerned over the site's historic value.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has revised its proposal to reduce the flood threat from Maui's Wailuku River. An environmental assessment for the project recently resulted in a finding of no significant impact. Critics agree that flooding is a risk, but they're still disappointed with the plan.

"We've provided enough testimony over the last decade and have asked that they engage with the community a little bit more," said Hokuao Pellegrino, president of the non-profit group Hui o Na Wai Eha.

The project aims to fix design flaws and damage to flood control structures originally built in 1981 that protect nearby homes and businesses. The work by the Corps to reconnect the main channel with the existing floodplain would be done near the mouth of the stream.

The proposal has been in the works for years, but the destruction caused by severe flooding in Iao Valley last September highlights the need for action.

"Wailuku River is one of the most important rivers in Hawaii as it relates to the Hawaiian culture. History has made it very clear that this river brings both life and destruction," said Pellegrino.

Critics understand the urgent need to reduce the flood hazard, but they're worried about the impact on native stream life, archaeological resources and Native Hawaiian practices.

"This was the Corps' golden opportunity to not just reduce flood risk in the area, but to begin rectifying the ecological and cultural harms of its past mistakes, Summer Kupau-Odo, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represents Hui o Na Wai Eha.

A major hurdle for the project was overcome recently when the environmental assessment determined that the proposal would not have any significant impact.

"The Corps is authorized to do improvements for the control of destructive floodwaters, with the objective of reducing flood risks to the adjacent Wailuku community and is not authorized to conduct ecosystem restoration for the Iao Stream Flood Control Project at Wailuku River," according to a statement from the Corps.

The agency added that funding to address ecosystem restoration concerns may be pursued through a separate Corps action.

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