Engineers begin task of repairing 4,000 linear feet of levees after storm damage

Watching the river run

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to repair nearly 4,000 linear feet of damaged levees in Wailuku River. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to repair nearly 4,000 linear feet of damaged levees in Wailuku River. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The Army Corps of Engineers will repair nearly 4,000 linear feet of levees in Wailuku River that almost collapsed due to last year’s 100-year flood.

Repairs to the Iao Stream Flood Control Project will start near Imi Kala Street and continue to the outlet of the stream at the ocean, Corps officials said. Work will not impact nearby businesses and residents, and it will not increase the footprint of the original flood control project.

Work on critical aspects of the repairs is planned to be completed by March 1, the Corps said in a news release. On Sept. 22, AMEC-CAPE of Blue Bell, Penn., was awarded the contract to complete the repairs.

A dozen residents and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners kicked off repair work Tuesday afternoon by blessing about 15 workers and Wailuku River at Imi Kala Bridge.

“We’re very grateful for the locals to come and honor us with a blessing,” said Martin Reed, project manager of the Omaha District.

Vicky Kaluna-Palafox, Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, blesses Imi Kala Bridge and Army Corps of Engineers workers Tuesday afternoon. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Vicky Kaluna-Palafox, Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, blesses Imi Kala Bridge and Army Corps of Engineers workers Tuesday afternoon. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

About 100 4-foot boulders, which had been relocated from the river to a county debris basin after the storm, will be returned as part of the repairs, said Michael Wong, chief of the Civil Works Technical Branch in Honolulu. He said rocks will be tested for cracks to ensure they are solid and not heavily weathered.

“We want to reuse and return as many rocks as we can,” he said.

Scouring holes, seeding and slope repairs are the focus of work, officials said. The Corps also has been alerted by the county and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs of the cultural sensitivity of the rocks and the significance of the Wailuku River, Wong said.

Mayor Alan Arakawa and the county were criticized earlier this year after stones from the river were crushed at the Central Maui Landfill. OHA identified rocks, or pohaku, as a “cornerstone of Native Hawaiian material and living culture.”

Kaniloa Kumaunu, a Native Hawaiian activist and Aha Moku member, expressed some concerns over the repair work Tuesday and notified residents along the river. He said he was concerned about the bottom of the flood control, which has been cemented, making aquatic life unable to spawn out of the ocean.

The Army Corps of Engineers says repair work to the Iao Stream Flood Control Project will not impact nearby businesses and residents, and it will not increase the footprint of the original flood control project. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The Army Corps of Engineers says repair work to the Iao Stream Flood Control Project will not impact nearby businesses and residents, and it will not increase the footprint of the original flood control project. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

“Spawning season is right now, and we’re concerned about them taking equipment into the river because that would destroy the habitat of the area,” Kumaunu said. “So far we’re satisfied with (the project), but that doesn’t mean we’re happy with it. At least they (Corps officials) know who we are, and we will be coming to check to make sure they’re doing what they’re saying they’re doing.”

The repairs are a result of a federal disaster declaration signed by former President Barack Obama. The county maintains the flood control project.

Construction of the original flood control was substantially completed in 1981 and principally provides flood risk management for one of the most densely populated communities on the island, the Corps said. There is a total of 690 residential, commercial and public facility structures in the floodplain with a combined worth of over $300 million.

County engineers previously identified two areas that were severely damaged in the Sept. 13, 2016, flood: a levee outside Kawaikini Place and an embankment behind Maui Disposal. Only 17 feet was left of the levee that protected Wailuku residents and businesses. A large portion of Maui Disposal’s parking lot collapsed, and the back wheels of its trucks were sitting on the edge of what was left of the lot.

Both areas were immediately repaired by the county.

In August, the county Department of Public Works issued a finding of no significant impact for a $20 million, federal-county project to repair the flood control project. Project plans call for reconnecting the main stream channel with the floodplain to reduce damaging flooding along the main channel and right bank levees.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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