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South Maui residents object to bridge project

Residents say project won’t stop flooding, offer alternative idea

Cars go over the Kulanihakoi bridge culvert on Wednesday afternoon South Kihei Road. The county is preparing to replace four culverts that are susceptible to flooding with a six-culvert structure. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Some Kihei residents and community organizations are urging the county to halt the Kulanihakoi Bridge Replacement project, saying it will not stop flooding in the area and will interfere with Native Hawaiian practices and impact a freshwater spring.

The county is expecting to seek bids in June for the $4.7 million project to replace the four Kulanihakoi culverts with six culverts along with a concrete bridge structure, similar to the one completed last month down South Kihei Road at the old Suda Store. Funding for the project is included in the current budget — $1.25 million from the county and $3.4 million in federal funds.

Residents in the Kalepolepo area next to the old Maui Lu Resort said flooding occurs often during heavy rain with the culverts overwhelmed by floodwaters and question whether the proposed project will remedy the problem. They noted that debris have raised the base level of the waterway in recent years, causing floodwaters to flow over the concrete bridge road.

The Kihei Community Association and Vernon Kalanikau, the poo or head of the Native Hawaiian Aha Moku O Kula Makai Council, have been urging the county to halt the project. Both say the county has been speaking with them but is not taking up their suggestions.

“We have consistently asked for a raised bridge that would allow more water flow than a culvert and prevent flooding on South Kihei Road,” said Linda Berry, a nearby resident and a board member of the Kihei Community Association.

The South Kihei Road intersection with Kaonoulu Street near the Kulanihakoi Gulch became flooded in March 2017.

Berry, an architect who has studied bridge design, said the association drew up plans for a bridge project and has opposed the current culvert plan since 2013. With a prefabricated raised bridge, the association learned that materials and work would cost less than $2 million, about half as much as the current project.

What also is disconcerting to Berry and Kalanikau is that the county will build a temporary bypass during construction and that the route runs over a freshwater spring. Kalanikau said the spring, to which he and his late father, Moki Kalanikau, have given offerings, needs to be protected.

“The place of offering is a living breathing spring, which comes from high up mauka of Kaonoulu ahupuaa and still today exits underneath and comes up on the shoreline feeding the reefs and kai (ocean),” said Kalanikau. “We need to preserve and protect what we have left. 

“And there are native plants and birds in the river. We need to malama them too.”

He is calling for an alternative route for the bypass road.

Because of these concerns, Council Member Elle Cochran has introduced a resolution urging the Department of Public Works to discontinue work on the project and to present an alternative plan with a prefabricated bridge.

Cochran plans to call for a vote on the resolution at Friday’s Maui County Council’s meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers, because the project is close to getting underway. She maneuvered a quick vote on the resolution, bypassing the usual committee referral, by offering up a document that lacks the “force and effect of law,” Cochran’s office said Wednesday.

Department of Public Works Director David Goode complained Wednesday that Cochran’s office had not reached out to him or the department about her latest concerns and the resolution.

“They drafted the resolution without even digging into the actual facts,” Goode said.

He said that he would be willing to discuss the “actual facts” of the project with a council committee. He noted that an environmental assessment was completed for the project with a finding of no significant impact, and no challenge was offered.

As for the Kihei Community Association proposal, Goode said a prefabricated bridge on piers as suggested would not work because the bridge will need a road expansion. This is not possible because of the limited space with condominiums in the area.

In addition, the proposed design, which was examined in the environmental assessment, would not be feasible because the bridge “cannot go up really fast and down really fast.”

Goode told the association in a letter last year that its bridge proposal would not prevent flooding. Like many Hawaii watersheds, the drainage way at Kulanihakoi flattens and fans out close to the shoreline and floods adjacent properties before reaching the culverts.

As for the temporary bypass, Goode said it would be mauka of the current culvert and is needed as a traffic detour. That bypass also would have culverts to handle the water underneath it.

He said sensitive cultural resources were not found in studies of the area, but archaeological monitoring will be done during construction.

If the project is stopped at this point, Goode said there is a chance that the federal funding could be lost.

The culverts each will be 6 feet wide by 4 feet high and 50 feet across South Kihei Road. The roadway will be widened and include a bike lane and a paved walkway. A 4-foot tall traffic rated bridge wall will be built on top of the culverts on each side as a traffic barrier for safety purposes.

Construction on the project could begin at the end of the year or early 2019, he said. Work could last around nine months. More land and funding still needs to be acquired.

Berry and Kalanikau, who both live in north Kihei, raised the issue of traffic congestion during the project. They recalled the traffic jams and delays getting in and out of South Maui due to the closure of South Kihei Road near Sugar Beach in Kihei for about six months for the recently completed $1.9 million culvert bridge.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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