Residents of floodway homes live with heavy restrictions as mitigation ideas over the years have gone nowhere
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 3, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 8:48 p.m. HST, Nov 6, 2013
As one of Oahu's low-lying coastal areas not far from the mountains, Kahuku is a natural for flooding.
When the Kahuku Plantation Co. was building housing for its laborers in the early 1900s, it ended up constructing many of the homes in the middle of a floodway.
There were no rules at the time preventing construction in a floodway, but now the city forbids it.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The former plantation camp, Kahuku Village V, was sold to a Florida developer in 2006 and now is being split between those who support the developer's plans and those opposed.
Today: Homeowners vs. renters
Monday: Fighting eviction
Tuesday: Deep ties
Twenty-five of the 72 homes that make up Kahuku Village V, the biggest surviving piece of the Kahuku plantation camps, are in the floodway.
If any one of those 25 homes falls down, the owners will not be allowed to rebuild. If residents in the floodway want to fix their homes, they are limited to $1,000 a year in repairs.
Florida developer Continental Pacific LLC was introduced to this problem in 2006 when it decided to buy Kahuku Village V, or KV5. The developer said it didn't realize the "extent" of the flood issue, which affected its original development plan and was a factor in its move to evict 25 of the KV5 families.
However, the flood problem has been a well-studied one.
Former KV5 owner Campbell Estate commissioned a flood control study in 1985 as it was planning to sell the homes to residents.
That study by engineering firm R.M. Towill Corp., the same firm that prepared a draft environmental assessment for Continental for its development plan, presented mitigation proposals that included creating storm water retention basins upstream and a $4 million plan for a new bridge and culvert along one side of KV5. Even levees were considered.
Campbell Estate didn't implement any of Towill's proposals because of economic and other reasons, according to a 1993 report by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
After a 1991 flood that caused $1 million in damage to Kahuku High and Intermediate School inland of KV5, a task force was formed and recommended widening Malaekahana Stream and running culverts under or around the village.
In 1993, DLNR recommended implementing Towill's $4 million bridge and culvert proposal along with an internal drainage system for the village.
Neither of those fixes were carried out.
Other ideas floated over the years but not implemented included building homes on stilts and adding 250,000 cubic yards of fill to raise the village.
So when city officials raised concerns over a plan by Continental to sell KV5 residents their homes, it was no shock to many familiar with the village that the flooding problem surfaced again.
Without flood mitigation, the city wouldn't allow Continental to sell the 25 homes in the floodway to their occupants. So Continental offered those tenants vacant lots outside the floodway for $150,000.
Nearly all the floodway residents passed on the offer, and Continental moved to evict them in December. Continental said it had to evict the residents because the city wouldn't allow 25 new lots outside the floodway unless the floodway homes were removed by 2015.
With 25 Kahuku families facing eviction, the city changed its position.
In March, the city said the floodway homes, though still at risk of potentially deadly destruction, deserved protection as a "plantation community subdivision" for former sugar plantation worker families.
"The tenants in the (plantation community subdivision) are for the most part elderly and have occupied their existing homes for many years," the Department of Planning and Permitting said in its decision. "Because of their advanced age, relocation to a new environment can be traumatic; and, for that reason, they should be allowed to spend their remaining years in their existing homes."
The department said Continental can create 25 new lots outside the floodway for sale while allowing floodway residents to remain until they die, or by Dec. 31, 2040, at the latest.
In response, Continental rescinded eviction notices to floodway residents provided that they agree not to pursue legal action. Some, but not all, agreed.