Flood in Iao Valley may leave lasting change for vehicles

Curt Cottrell, state parks administrator, explains how vehicular traffic into Iao Valley State Monument may have to change once the park reopens in the summer during a community meeting Wednesday evening. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

The way vehicles access Iao Valley State Monument “could be substantially different” once the park reopens in the summer, state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials said Wednesday evening.

After months of cleanup following a massive flood in September, work on the exposed cliff side along the parking lot is scheduled to begin Feb. 13. But with new constraints on where vehicles can drive through the parking lot, it remains up in the air whether buses will be able to enter the lot.

“We’re not certain at this point . . . what the stability is going to be for vehicles, and what I’m talking about is buses,” state parks administrator Curt Cottrell said during a community meeting. “We’re not certain at this point in time if buses will be able to make that turn (in the parking lot).”

Heavy rains Sept. 13 flooded homes, destroyed water pipes and wreaked havoc on Kepaniwai Park and Iao Valley State Monument. Both parks have been closed since then, with Kepaniwai expected to reopen in March, according to the county.

The September floodwaters were recorded running at about 10,900 cubic feet per second, said Jordan Hart, president and land planner with Chris Hart & Partners. A 1916 flood, which was the largest flood since 1900, when data were first collected, notched 17,000 cubic feet per second.

Residents look over plans for park improvements along with state Department of Land and Natural Resources staff. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

In September, debris running down the Wailuku River scoured the cliff side along the parking lot and left a sheer, exposed dirt face about 60 feet tall. The department said that stabilizing the cliff face is the first step in repairs.

“We want it done by the summer so at least the place is safer and locals and visitors can come back,” said Russell Kumabe, chief of the state Parks Planning Development Branch.

Work will happen in two phases. The first phase will stretch 200 feet along the stream, starting near the garden in the park. The department plans to place a revetment wall of boulders along the bottom of the slope and cover the face of the cliff in shotcrete, which is concrete shot out of a hose.

The second phase will span 210 feet along the length of the parking lot. Again, a rock wall, this one with a concrete base, will be placed along the bottom of the slope, and shotcrete will cover the cliff.

Shotcrete can be colored to look like a rock cliff face or sculpted to allow the growth of vegetation, said Micah Kagimoto, civil engineer with Wilson Okamoto Corp.

However, after repairs are made, vehicles will have to stay 30 feet away from the guardrail along the edge, Cottrell said. Because a large portion of the parking lot will be taken away, it’s uncertain whether buses will be able to make the turn around the racetrack-shaped lot, or whether the buses “will continue to destabilize where we’re putting the thin veneer of shotcrete,” Cottrell said.

“This has a significant impact on our tour industry,” he said. “We have to be prepared to adjust how we get vehicles in and out of the park.”

Cottrell estimated that park fees, including entrance fees for rental cars and tour buses, bring in about $280,000 a year in revenue.

“What it may mean is the buses only go to the top and they don’t make the turn, or we reverse the way you enter the park,” he added. “There’s a few other options, but we have such a limited footprint of where vehicles can go.  . . . Hopefully in the process of putting it back together and stabilizing, we will learn what the future will mean for us.”

Residents at the meeting were concerned about safety once the park reopens. Some said that the work is progressing too quickly, and that more measures were needed in the park to make sure visitors who “check their brains at the gate” stay safe, resident Blossom Feiteira said.

“I hope the scale does not teeter toward tourism,” Haiku resident Joyclynn Costa added. “I hope it teeters more toward safety. Because it sounds as though there’s this timeline to get the tourists back up there, and I would rather see  . . . this delayed when it comes to safety.”

DLNR engineer Brian Chang said that the department is trying to get the project done quickly for safety reasons.

“As an engineer, I tell you we are really rushing, trying to get it done for safety,” Chang said. “March is the heavy raining season. We want to get this done to protect the slope.  . . . In another heavy rain, we lose more parking lot.”

Other residents disagreed with the way contractors planned to enter the construction area. The path would lead from the entrance of the park down the slope and require the removal of some of the kukui trees along the way. Larry Pacheco, state parks Maui District superintendent, said that the alternative of going through the park would damage the Hawaiian garden.

But Waihee Valley resident Skye Kamaunu said that the garden was man-made.

“Man-made is always easier to replace,” Kamaunu said. “They want to protect the area but  . . . I think they’re creating more damage in the process.”

Keoni Gomes of contractor Maui Kupono Builders said that workers would “do our best to make it look how it is right now” on the way out. He said that the company plans to use materials that are already in the valley and that workers will not be carrying anything out. (Kumabe said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit does not allow the removal of stones and other materials.) Work on the cliff is expected to take place 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Pacheco also said there would be a monitor on site on the days when any excavation happens.

Geotextile, a fabric that allows water to go through but not silt, would also be put in place during work, Cottrell said.

The project will cost around $1.8 million, which would come from the DLNR’s Engineering Division budget, said Kumabe, adding that the state would “most likely” seek reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Former President Barack Obama declared the valley a federal disaster area in October.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.