Sean Scanlan and his brother Cavan are raising their families in a quiet country home fronting the Pukele stream on a Palolo street with views of Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean.
The brothers, who couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, had envisioned expanding the home to provide space for their children to raise their families there, too. But that dream could slip away if a planned Ala Wai Flood Control Project gets built according to the latest environmental impact statement, which expands mitigation efforts outside of Waikiki. The project’s re-scoping on Ipulei Place, where the Scanlan brothers live, has tripled and now on that street alone affects about a dozen households, including owners and renters.
“We’re right in the path. I could lose my home and no one told us. How are we supposed to contest something that we didn’t know about?” said Sean Scanlan, who is part of a growing hui of residents who hope to slow down the Ala Wai project long enough for decision makers to get a clearer picture of impacts and consider other options.
There has been plenty of controversy surrounding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to put a 4-foot concrete wall around the Ala Wai Canal. However, the Scanlans and other members of the public, including school officials and some lawmakers, are just starting to complain about a lesser-known aspect of the project: placing six in-stream debris and detention basins in the upper reaches of Makiki, Manoa and Palolo to address the watershed flow that feeds into the Ala Wai Canal.
The project also includes a stand-alone debris catchment, three multipurpose detention areas in open spaces through the developed watershed, and concrete flood walls averaging 4 feet high along one or both sides of approximately 1.9 miles of the Ala Wai Canal, including two pump stations.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that it conducted significant public participation and outreach from 2004 to 2015 to meet Federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and follow Hawaii state environmental compliance policies.
But that was news to the Manoa Neighborhood Board, according to the group’s vice chairwoman, Ellen Watson, who plans to present a resolution Wednesday calling to halt the project so that the community can provide additional input and the government has time to consider the feedback. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at the Noelani School Cafeteria.
“We don’t want to be sacrificed to save Waikiki and the hotels from flooding,” Watson said.
Supporters of the project, including U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, have said that mitigation is necessary to protect Waikiki, metropolitan Honolulu and the University of Hawaii. The Makiki, Manoa and Palolo streams make up the 16.3-mile Ala Wai watershed, which feeds into the canal, which was constructed in the 1920s to create land for Waikiki development.
Flood project needed
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said flood prevention is needed along the streams for Waikiki and neighborhoods, which host approximately 65,000 residents and an additional 200,000 visitors daily. While the likelihood of a flood so severe that it encompasses all of Waikiki and the canal’s tributaries is only 1 percent, such a 100-year event potentially could damage 3,000 structures and require more than $1 billion in repairs.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, “Hurricane Lane was a near miss, however, with the increasing storms and intensity of storms, this project is necessary to protect the community, the infrastructure, and the economy from the risks of those future storms. The intent of the appropriating legislation and the project team has been to work as quickly as possible to ensure that protection is in place before a major storm arrives.”
Few on Oahu would deny the importance of protecting the state’s economic epicenter, Waikiki. But there’s a growing hui of residents who are concerned about unintended consequences, especially upstream. Led by Dave Watase, they’ve got their own website, stopalawaiproject.com. Watase has been opposing the project since 2015 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers targeted his Waiomao stream property for construction of a Waiomao Detention Basin.
Watase has spread the word, and now others have joined the fight. Steve Holmes and David Youtz, neighbors living along the Pukele stream, fear inadequate maintenance could lead to safety hazards. Sidney Lynch, who lives along the Waiomao stream, is concerned that altered flows could cause the shallow stream to dry up.
Jordan Wong hates to see his longtime renters displaced when his investment properties are taken and objects to the aesthetics of having detention basins and catchments mar the neighborhood’s lush green views — especially when he says not all residents were properly notified.
Honolulu City Council Member Ann Kobayashi has complained about lack of transparency and adherence to proper protocol.
“Residents that will be affected by construction or having a detention basin on or around their property should have been deemed stakeholders in this project,” Kobayashi said in a Jan. 4 letter to Lt. Col. Kathryn P. Sanborn, head of the Honolulu District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Instead, residents were not made aware of the project, nor properly notified. Furthermore, the property owners were not given the opportunity to provide input, or have their questions answered.”
Kobayashi, who also has reached out to state Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case, said the proposed project would affect private residential properties in her district as well as nearby schools, such as Ala Wai Elementary, Hokulani Elementary and ‘Iolani schools, which are “opposed to the project for the health and safety of their students, families, faculty and staff.”
Despite emerging objections, the project appears to be moving forward. While minor changes to the size, scale and precise location of the project features might occur, Congress has appropriated $345 million, which won’t expire, for construction. Gov. David Ige’s budget seeks $125 million to meet a federal cost share requirement.
On Jan. 25 the state Board of Land and Natural Resources granted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a right-of-entry permit to conduct due diligence related to the Ala Wai Flood Control Project on state land. At that meeting, BLNR denied a request for a contested case hearing made by Watase, the Palolo landowner who doesn’t want to relinquish his land for a Waiomao Detention Basin.
“It is our lifetime investment and dream to be able to provide our children with an incentive to stay in Hawaii, to stay close to family and to be able to afford a home with a peaceful country atmosphere in Palolo Valley in town,” he said. “But this issue isn’t just about me and my family; I’m speaking out because it impacts so many other people.”