Monday, December 29, 2008

Streams need cleaning

Representative Maile Shimabukuro is calling on city and state officials to expedite the cleaning of drains clogged by trash and debris during torrential rainstorm two weeks ago on the Wai'anae Coast. Her legislative office has been inundated with phone calls from residents displaced and heavily affected by rain water that flooded roads and damaged homes.

"Many of my constituents have been calling my office complaining of getting the run-around from city and state departments," said Rep. Shimabukuro. "Something needs to be done now - not later - before rising tides and ineffective drains go for a round two on these people's homes."

If these drains are not unclogged soon, residents fear even more damage should another downpour strike. Wai'anae coast flood victims also wonder why rivers, streams and ditches near their homes had not been dredged or cleared regularly in order to avoid this kind of disaster.

One of those storm victims is Robin Heath. Two to three inches of mud brought in by flood waters destroyed his home on Makaha Valley Road. The estimated cost of rebuilding his home is close to $100,000, not including furniture and personal items ruined. He blames a dam created by illegal waste and debris that blocked water drainage of Eku stream for the catastrophic flooding.

In a letter dated December 23 to state officials, Heath writes "I have been notifying [emergency] authorities…of the blockage since Friday, December 12. As of yet, no action has been taken to clear the dam. I am greatly concerned that if the dam is not cleared, my house and property, as well as my neighbors homes, will be flooded again. At this point in time, any amount of water will result in flooding, since the drainage is blocked."

The problem is the debris and trash blocking the streams, Heath said. "If the water stayed in the stream, then the flood would not have gone on the banks."

Rep. Shimabukuro is considering legislation next year to prohibit certain industrial activities on agricultural land, and to stiffen penalties for those who dump in streams.

"We must address illegal dumping and backfilling in our streams which caused some of this flooding," she said.

Since the storm, Robin Heath has been frustrated by the slow disaster relief and clean up by the city and state. He is, however, thankful that the Hawaii Civil Defense was finally able to provide him with sandbags Monday to block the flow of water into his home.

Mark Suiso, another Makaha resident affected by the storm, said that a stream between Makaha Valley Road and Maiuu Road is plugged and caused massive flooding. He and fellow neighbors recently cleared one of the dams created by trash and debris, but there is still more work to be done, and they can't do it alone. Suiso notified city and state officials and hopes the stream will be emptied before more rain.

Chris Meyer, a landlord living in Makaha, has tenants who are now homeless after the debris-ridden river near Makaha Valley Road overflowed into three homes on her property. "It's not mother nature," she said. "It's negligence."

After days on her knees scrubbing mud and filth out of her carpets, Meyer is still worried about what else could happen. "I just cannot go through the physical aspect of what I just went through for the last week of cleaning and cleaning and cleaning and not having anybody to assist me and my tenants who were affected by this horrendous mistake," she said.

On her wish list this Christmas, Meyer would like more physical assistance from the city and state. Many agencies have come by to collect information and assess damages, but she hasn't seen anyone on the streets actually removing or fixing the problem, and helping residents put their homes back together.

"I want the Leeward coast to be heard. I'm tired of all of us being treated like third-or fourth-rate citizens of Hawaii," she said

Small waves of water swamped Kirk Fehn's home in Makaha after a ditch backed up because of debris and trash that had not been cleaned up. He tried to clear the ditch on his own, but couldn't get to it since a neighboring onion farmer built a fence that blocks access to it.

Caroline Bailey found 'aweoweo swimming in her yard after the deluge. She lives a quarter mile from the ocean. Her home was also severely damaged and she is certain that this could have been avoided if the storm drains on Farrington Highway that run mauka to makai were not too high to receive the overflow of water.

"The blockages in these streams must be cleared immediately. The fact that no action has been taken at this point is inexcusable," said Rep. Maile Shimabukuro (D-45th Waianae, Makaha, Makua).

The homeless on the Wai`anae Coast have their own set of troubles. “The demand for tarps and tents has far exceeded supply at the City’s Disaster Assistance Recovery Centers,” Shimabukuro said. “I hope that local businesses may be able to lend a hand in this area.”

Flood victims may call the City’s flood assistance hotline at 723-8944 or 723-8957.

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