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Effects of storm linger with debris, boil water advisories

Damage to county roads, waterlines to cost $3 million in repairs

A guardrail along lower Kekaulike Avenue was washed out during the Kona low storm in early December. About a month after the storm, Upcountry and South Maui residents are still dealing with its effects as leftover debris creates a stench and a boil water advisory is still in effect for some Upper Kula residents. Repairs to roads, waterlines and other county infrastructure are estimated at $3 million. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Even though it has been about a month since the Kona low weather system walloped parts of Maui, Upcountry and South Maui residents are still dealing with its effects as leftover debris creates a stench and a boil water advisory is still in effect for some Upper Kula residents.

Herman Andaya, administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, said Monday that the response phase is over and that the county has now moved on to recovery, the most arduous phase.

Today, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are scheduled to be on Maui to visit private individual properties that were damaged during the storm that began Dec. 5, swamping some areas of the state with 20 inches or more of rain and leaving many Maui residents without power and water.

Three teams from FEMA will make their way out today to assess the damages and see if individual assistance can be given to individual property owners, Andaya told the Maui County Council’s Infrastructure and Transportation Committee Monday morning. He said the county identified 160 homes that were affected.

Andaya said he doesn’t think individual assistance would cover a new home, but a “grant of money” could be given to help rebuild. The Small Business Administration could make low-interest loans available to a person to rebuild their home.

Walking along a debris line of tons of material washed out of gulches and neighborhoods and into the ocean by heavy rains on Dec. 5-6, Kihei’s Harden Jamison patrols a beach near his home for plastic waste on Dec. 10. “It’s a nice day, so I thought I’d walk around, pick up some plastic so it doesn’t kill any fish,” he said. The debris washed up near the Kenolio Dog Park, which was left covered by a thick layer of mud.

On Dec. 17, the full council voted on first reading in favor of appropriating $3 million in county emergency funding for repairs due to the storm. Discussion of the repairs was also referred to committee. A second and final reading on the bills is scheduled before the full council on Friday.

At the Monday committee meeting, Deputy Public Works Director Jordan Molina said the Water Supply Department estimated it needed around $200,000 for its repairs, with the rest of the funds going to the Public Works Department for things such as design and construction to repair the damage as well as toward debris removal.

According to the Department of Public Works, the most expensive estimated project is a $450,000 repair to the Piilani Highway culverts at Nuu Gulch in Kaupo. The county is seeking to replace the damaged culverts and restore pavement that was washed out.

Other higher-ticket items include an estimated $310,000 to stabilize the makai slope and restore pavement at 5738 Lower Kula Road, along with an estimated $270,000 to stabilize slopes and replace guardrails Lower Kula Road Bridge at Pulehu Gulch.

Six projects call for repairing damaged waterlines at the Waipoli, Waiakoa, Hapapa and Kawehi gulches, as well as at Middle and Maukanani roads, among other locations in Upper Kula. The six projects are estimated at $35,000 each.

Four debris removal projects are expected to cost $75,000 each, with two projects at Lower Kula Road Ford and two others at Lower Kula Road Bridge.

Council Member Kelly King, whose residency seat is South Maui, which was hit hard by water coming down from Upcountry and overflowing in gulches, said there are still issues with debris being stockpiled near homes. She said she is worried that the debris and stench are creating a health hazard and asked if other areas could be used as staging points for the debris.

Molina acknowledged that “all those things are considerations we can do better at,” but said the department needed to tend to other matters immediately, such as removing debris to clear roads and other areas.

“There is just not enough resources on this island to get it done within a couple of weeks,” Molina said.

“We ask for their patience at this point.”

Molina said South Maui residents could put in a request for service with the county over issues regarding stockpiled debris near their homes.

Committee Chairwoman Yuki Lei Sugimura, who lives in Upper Kula and was without electricity and water for days after the severe weather, said she is still under a boil water advisory.

“We are still in the event to a certain extent,” she said.

Water Director Jeffrey Pearson said during the meeting that his department needs to work on its communication with the community. It’s rare for the department to face a water issue that affects a “large number of people for such a long period of time,” he said.

During the storm, hundreds of Kula residents were without water after heavy rains swept though gulches, eroding water transmission lines. There were multiple breaks in difficult-to-reach locations. County water tankers with potable water had to be set up in various areas in and around Kula. Some residents said it was difficult to get updates on when water service might be restored.

Pearson said the department is “trying to improve” and “trying to get daily communications out” to the public.

He explained that the boil water notice is still on for some residents, as when numerous pipes break, they can be contaminated with things like animal feces, which results in E. coli.

Pearson also announced the county’s plans to change the disinfectant from chloramines to chlorine beginning Monday in hopes of clearing away the last trace amounts of E. coli from the Upper Kula water system.

Upcountry customers in Olinda, Lower Kula and Makawao are not affected as chlorine is already used as a disinfectant in those systems.

Council Member Tamara Paltin expressed concerns over how the county got word out about the storm and said the communication felt “disjointed.”

Andaya said the county’s public information office is a central place for information. While there is always room for improvement, Andaya said he is not sure how much more information could have been put out about the storm, noting that it was not a hurricane or a named storm.

“It was heavy rains. We were told it was heavy rains (and) it would possibly linger over Maui,” Andaya said.

The rains could cause some flash flooding, but Andaya said that was not uncommon. He added that officials did not know the rains would be at the magnitude that occurred.

Andaya said those that subscribe to “Maka’ala,” Maui County’s Emergency Alert System, should have also received notifications about the weather.

He added that after every incident MEMA conducts a review of its response.

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

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