Aloha Aina O Kamilo Nui nursery, a nearly three-acre plot of agricultural land tucked deep within Hawaii Kai’s Kamilo Nui Valley, remains a wasteland after parts of East Oahu were hit by flash floods April 13.

Chickens set free from their coop during the storm roam freely in front of the nursery’s chain-link fence. PVC pipes once hidden underground now protrude from the earth. Rubble and debris create obstacles on the walkway that snakes through what used to be greenery. Only half of the mamaki crop remains — and the banana and papaya trees weren’t that lucky.

But the community has rallied in support of the nursery. About 70 volunteers have helped out, including inmates from the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua and an Amazon Construction worker who assisted with cleaning up debris.

In addition to help from volunteers, the nursery recently received a $10,000 donation from the Hui Nalu O Hawaii canoe club.

Elizabeth Reilly President of Livable Hawaii Kai points to erosion from the April 2018 storm that damaged the valley at 965 Kamilonui Place.
Elizabeth Reilly, president of Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, points to some of the damage from the April storm that devastated Aloha Aina O Kamilo Nui. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, the nonprofit that leases the land and oversees the nursery, has been trying to raise $20,00 through a GoFundMe page it created April 17. So far, the page has generated $7,050 in donations, so the canoe club’s mailed gift brings the organization within a few thousand dollars of its goal.

“Because Hui Nalu and our organization share the same value system in how we care for the community and connecting community with conservation and sacred sites, I think they felt compelled to do this, which is just amazing,” said Elizabeth Reilly, president of Livable Hawaii Kai Hui. “It lifted our spirits to no end.”

Part of the nursery’s mission is to maintain a sustainable watershed in Kamilo Nui Valley and use the traditional Hawaiian model of the ahupuaa to promote community-based agricultural practices. Community groups run pilot projects there, including growing mamaki for tea and harvesting honey from honeybees.

The tea and honey have been sold at local farmers’ markets and to supporters of the nursery, but whatever is grown on the land is generally given to the elderly at Lunalilo Home or as tokens of appreciation to volunteers.

For the last three years the canoe club has grown watermelons at the nursery that are used at the club’s annual fundraiser, the Kaiwi Coast Run & Walk.

So after learning the nursery was damaged, Hui Nalu felt compelled to offer a helping hand, even though members of of the Hawaii Kai-based club were also facing their own challenges caused by the storm.

Carol Jaxon, who is in charge of the Kaiwi Coast Run & Walk, said that one fundraising organizer had to recarpet her home and another had to move out.

The heavy rains that wreaked havoc on the nursery and some members of Hui Nalu on April 13 also affected others living in southeast Oahu. Homes and cars were flooded and Kalanianaole Highway was blocked by debris. For the next two days, Kauai was hit with thunderstorms and record-breaking rainfall.

“We decided we really needed to do something that would be impactful,” Jaxon said of Hui Nalu’s donation to the nursery.

Like Livable Hawaii Kai Hui, Hui Nalu is a nonprofit organization. It provides educational opportunities through ocean activities and seeks to preserve Hawaiian traditions pertaining to the ocean, families and community.

Reilly plans to use the donation for a new irrigation system. Since the storm, she and a few other regular volunteers have been forced to hand-water the plants that survived, which takes about three hours.

Large concrete drainage pipes sits in the bushes after the large pipe washed down after the big storm in April 2018.
A large concrete drainage pipe was dislodged by the storm. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“We always need help,” said Cynthia Johnson, a regular nursery volunteer of seven years. “Manpower is a big resource and we really appreciate help and beefing up our team that way.”

The volunteer from Amazon Construction donated a mini-excavator to remove debris that was too large to lift by hand. Reilly said he comes throughout the week after work to operate it.

A group of 12 to 15 inmates from the Women’s Community Correctional Center visited the nursery twice to help with cleanup.

As a result of their help, as well as that of other volunteers, Reilly anticipates there’s only about 40 hours left of cleanup work left.

She hopes to begin rebuilding in August to repair or replace two broken bridges, damaged benches, a potting shed roof and washed away concrete walking paths.

Reilly is talking with the landowner, Kamehameha Schools, about improving the now-destroyed water catchment system so that the nursery doesn’t face similar destruction in the next big storm. She is interested in a more modern system that will harvest the water for vegetation.

“We also look at this as an opportunity because there’s a vast amount of water that the valley produces and we would like to figure out the best management practice to put in place to avoid this in the future,” Reilly said.

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