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By now, anyone who watches the local evening news knows that Mapunapuna floods dramatically during high tides and heavy rains.
As local scientists and government agencies have ramped up their work to address the potential impacts of sea level rise, the low-lying inland industrial area has been repeatedly held up as an example of what other low-lying areas around Oahu could expect as a result of climate change.
During the king tides earlier this year, local news outlets reported on sightings of fish swimming in the streets there as seawater flooded stormwater systems.
The fact that the flooding in Mapunapuna will probably not end anytime soon and will likely worsen with sea level rise had members of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources wondering recently whether or not it should continue to lease out lands there. At its July 28 meeting, the Land Board got an earful from one of its tenants who cited the constant flooding as the main reason why he had fallen behind on his rent.
At the meeting, the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Land Division recommended that the board authorize its chair to extend the amount of time Island Demo Inc., had to cure its rent default of $25,050.
The company’s owner, John Leary, testified that he has noticed that every month for the past two decades or so, there is water on the road, and “the water is getting deeper and deeper. … They had a guy paddle boarding down the middle of the street.” Rusting caused by the flooding has forced him to get rid of six of his 12 work trucks, he added.
“I have 22 employees. They gotta drive their private cars through this stuff. … This is just getting nuts,” he said, adding that after 18 years on the property, he no longer believes it’s worth the $54,600 a year in rent. “It wasn’t like this. Now, it’s just terrible. Everybody wears rubber boots. All our phone lines are flooded out. Nothing works. Everything smells like mildew,” he said.
He pointed out that his lease promises “quiet enjoyment” of the property.
Land Board member Sam Gon said he completely sympathized with Leary. “It does seem to be coming to a point where the land uses for that area may no longer be appropriate,” he said.
“If this were a kingdom and I were the king, I would reduce your rent drastically.” — State land board member Stanley Roehrig
As bad as things were at the property, Leary suggested the effort that would be required to relocate his business — which involves the recycling of construction and demolition waste — would be harder than simply sticking it out where he is.
“I have a conditional use permit to operate a transfer station. That process, I did that in 1998, that was $40,000 (for) consulting, an environmental impact statement … To get another piece of property, to go through the conditional use permit process, would take two to three years,” he said.
Board chair Suzanne Case asked the Land Division’s Kevin Moore whether the periodic flooding was being considered during regular rent re-openings.
Moore said that in the last one, the appraiser gave a 10 percent discount because of the flooding, but he had also based the rent on comparable properties that don’t have similar issues.
Board member Stanley Roehrig urged the department to investigate ways to reduce Leary’s rent. “We have an issue that we are not providing a safe, quiet … enjoyment of the leasehold premises because of matters outside of the control of the tenant,” he said.
“If this were a kingdom and I were the king, I would reduce your rent drastically,” Roehrig told Leary.
Board member Keone Downing, however, suggested that if human health is being put at risk because of the flooding, the property should be closed. “You haven’t been paying your rent. You’re delinquent as of today. … There really shouldn’t be a business there,” he told Leary.
While Leary agreed that the flooding does cause hazardous conditions, he added, “It doesn’t stop us. We overcome. We’ve adjusted and overcome.” He noted that his office building floods only a few times a year, but the last time, around Christmas, the water level was around 18 inches.
Leary indicated that he still wanted to stay on the property, but that he wanted the rent reduced at the next re-opening in 2019.
Downing replied that even with a rent reduction, the flooding and resulting damages would continue. “It’s sounding like the area should be closed and the businesses should be out,” he said.
“It’s not as easy as you think,” Leary said, noting that the state Department of Transportation has a baseyard in the the area and there are other “major businesses” there.
Given the expected rise in sea level due to climate changes, Case said Leary’s situation is “a look into the future.” Contrary to Downing’s position, she said the businesses in the area can make their own decisions about whether or not to stay.
“It’s not like we can go in and close businesses down,” she said.
With regard to future rent determinations for Leary’s property, as well as others, Case said the flooding problems may have to be considered and that she expected the value of everybody’s properties affected by sea level rise are going to go down. “That’s something we’re going to have to think about,” she said.
The Land Board ultimately approved the Land Division’s recommendation. It also indicated that it wanted the division and the state Department of Health to assess the impacts of sea level rise on the quiet enjoyment of the property and determine any potential rent adjustments that need to be made.
Reprinted with permission from the current issue of Environment Hawaii, a nonprofit news publication founded in 1990. All issues published in the last five years are available free to Environment Hawaii subscribers at www.environment-hawaii.org. Non-subscribers must pay $10 for a two-day pass. All issues older than that are free to the public.